Archive for November, 2015

Is there a change coming?

Monday, November 30th, 2015

The great news:

France decides to ban the import of lion trophies.

SeaWorld ends orca performances in one of its US facilities The US and China indicate they will virtually end all domestic ivory trade in the next year.

Kenya announces it will destroy its 130+ tonne ivory stockpile The new film, Racing Extinction, secures a worldwide release on Discovery simultaneously on the 2nd December 2015 (watch or set your recorder).

Blood Lions, the hard hitting film about the ‘canned lion hunting industry’, continues to make waves and shows to sellout audience at the Royal Geographical Society London (Friday 27th November) The Botswanan Environment Minister declares that he can see no moral difference between despicable canned hunting and regular trophy hunting (Botswana recently banned trophy hunting, breaking a long-standing Southern African common position in this issue).

The good (ish) news:

UK Environment Minister Rory Stewart announces that UK will consider banning Lion Trophies if countries with wild lions that permit trophy hunting do not get their act together to manage it properly (I said good-ish).

The South Africa Professional Hunters Association has condemned canned hunting in an effort to distance itself from this disgusting practice (nice try!

The bad news:

South Africa announces that it may now legalise domestic trade in rhino horn! The expression ‘when you’re in a hole, stop digging’ springs to mind.

For once, the great news at the top of the page significantly outweighs the good-ish and the bad.

On Saturday the 28th November I spoke at a day of presentations on hunting at the University of Winchester. Under pressure, it’s reported that those who were due to speak in support of hunting have withdrawn.

So what is going on? Has the moral compass shifted? Have the oft-repeated justifications for trophy hunting (money to local communities, protects habitats, there is no alternative, it it good for conservation) finally been exposed for what they are – weak, anthropocentric, self-serving. Are the days of the killing of wild animals for ‘fun’, confining wild creatures in captivity for human entertainment, wearing the body parts of some of our most iconic (dead) wild species, etc., coming to an end……?

I am watching. We all are watching. Is there a change coming?

Blogging off!


The dangerous reality of wild animal “actors” laid bare by trainer

Monday, November 9th, 2015

Guest blog from Born Free CEO Adam Roberts.

“Penned by a journalist as part of the UK Newspaper, The Guardian’s, “Action and Adventure Film” section, an article published in the last few days highlighted the career of former US-based entrepreneur, Randy Miller, who now makes a living out of using live wild animals in “attack scenes” in major Hollywood productions. Written in such a manner so as Mr Miller is presented as something of a charismatic daredevil, the article highlights how he began collecting wild animals, such as big cats, in the days when his business was flourishing. When he was later declared bankrupt in the mid-nineties, he established a company that hired out the animals for use in films.

Miller recounts the time he “took a bite from a tiger for Russell Crowe” during filming for ‘Gladiator’ and was viciously attacked by a bear during filming for ‘Semi-Pro’ in 2008, when he stood in for actor, Will Ferrell. Miller survived these attacks. The article recounts the tragic story of his cousin, Stevie, who was killed by one of Miller’s bears as he attempted to film a TV commercial with the wild animal. The article suggests, in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner “this seems like madness” but goes on to conclude “it’s clear how much he loves his animals and lives for them”.

What is particularly interesting about the piece is that Miller appears to relish the danger of the role and so, unlike many other animal trainers who work with wild animals and insist that the practice is completely safe, Miller lays bare the reality; these remain dangerous wild animals who can injure and kill at will. This begs the question: why on earth is this practice still permitted around the world?

While there were always be people who want the supposed thrill and excitement of “wrangling” a wild animal, when things go wrong, both people and animals pay. Had the tiger who (predictably) attacked Miller during the scene for Gladiator continued to attack, in all likelihood he (and potentially Miller, too) would have lost his life. If the bear had not loosed his grip, he too would have been stopped by potentially lethal force. Miller’s cousin paid with his life for the desire to have a bear in his company’s advert. If the people, both those working with animals and in the companies employing them, refuse to heed the very clear warning signs, then does it not stand to reason that the decision be taken out of their hands and this use of animals be prohibited? No film, television advert or programme is worth losing a life over; animal or human.

And this is in addition to the wider animal welfare concerns surrounding the use of these animals in this way. A lifetime of captivity, separated from their families usually before weaning, transported from place to place and subjected to the chaos of a film set; these animals simply deserve better.

Miller admits in the piece that work is becoming scarce as more companies wisely turn to computer generated imagery (CGI) to create lifelike animals to great effect; just look at the Planet of the Apes films or the recent epic “Noah” for examples of animal-free productions. But can we really stand by and simply wait for this outdated, dangerous and cruel industry to die a natural death? I believe not. It is time that wild animals were recognised and respected for what they are. It is time we got them out of the studios and film sets and it is time that we stop celebrating the people who continue to exploit them. It is not brave to wrestle a wild animal. It is, at best, extremely ill-advised and, at worst, a very dangerous form of animal exploitation.

You can help to bring an end to the use of wild animals in entertainment by contacting Born Free if you see a production that uses live wild animals so that we can reach out to the production companies and urge compassionate change. You can also choose to avoid films and other productions which exploit animals in this way. If you work in the media industry then you can ensure that you only work on productions which commit to a “no wild animals” policy. Together we can help to bring the exploitation of wild animal “actors” to an end.


Outrageous ‘Pets’

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

Apparently we are no longer satisfied with ‘conventional pets’. More and more people want something a little out of the ordinary. Whether as a result of a whim, a fashion trend, a desire to stand out from the crowd, as One Click Away makes clear, millions of wild animals are now on the ‘wish list’. And, as this Report also makes clear, the implications are dire both for the individuals and for the species concerned.

As if it was not enough to be given the awesome responsibility of properly caring for a cat, dog or horse (and heaven knows many of us make a pretty miserable job of that, given the number of abandoned animals roaming the streets, the full-to-bursting shelters and rescue centres and the thousands of healthy but unwanted pets destroyed each and every year), we now crave the monkey, the lizard, the snake, the fish, the parrot, the tortoise, the terrapin – even exotic cat species such as ocelot, serval and caracal.

Why? Well it would be all too easy to point the finger of blame at the like of Michael Jackson with his chimpanzee Bubbles, or Justin Bieber with his pet monkey. It would be equally facile to single out films like Finding Nemo and the subsequent surge in ownership (more often short-term ownership) of clown fish. Or the YouTube footage of a slow loris supposedly giggling while being tickled under the forearms which made the species, at least temporarily, the new ‘must have’ pet – they’re SOOO cute

The Born Free Foundation has long-standing concerns about the trade and possession of wild animals as pets. Our global efforts include intercepting and rescuing some of the 2-300 cheetah cubs currently smuggled out of the Horn of Africa into the Middle East as status symbol pets, the perfect accessory for the back of the luxury four wheel drive.

We contend, and the evidence suggests, that this trade is inflicting gross suffering on millions of wild animals and driving species to the brink, facilitated by slack law enforcement, lack of effective legislation, increased disposable income, the ‘well why not’ attitude that increasingly pervades our society – all these combine to make the keeping of exotic pets, many ordered blindly over the internet, all the rage.

And outrage is what we should feel when confronted with this abomination – outrage that we must control and channel and focus to turn into reality the numerous vitally important recommendations set out by Blue Cross and Born Free in One Click Away.

Of course, the trade in and ownership of exotic ‘pets’ may be low down on the political agenda but it is here on our patch, on our doorstep and it is one thing we can do something about. One Click Away means that no longer can inaction be excused as a result of ignorance, the ‘I didn’t know anything about it’ syndrome.

One Click Away should be the catalyst that initiates effective reform to the law, to enforcement, to regulation and to public attitudes. The exploitation of wild animals as ‘pets’ should not be ‘business as usual’.

Blogging off!