Archive for March, 2016

Turn Up The Heat On Trophy Hunting!

Thursday, March 24th, 2016

Dear Friends,

Following hard on the heels of my last Blog, my good friend and colleague, Daniel Turner, has asked me to ask you all for help in turning up the heat on Trophy Hunting!

If you live in the EU, please read his urgent message and then contact your MEP.

Also, please spread the word far and wide…

Thanks so much

Blogging off


The Born Free Foundation is urging European politicians (MEPs) to support calls to restrict the import of animal trophies into the European Union, by signing Written Declaration 0003/2016. West Midlands MEP Neena Gill – backed by 18 other cross-Party MEPs – has tabled the Written Declaration in the European Parliament urging the European Commission and the 28 European countries to tighten the rules relating to the import of wildlife trophies into the European Union.

Written Declaration 0003/2016 ‘on Trophy Hunting’ calls on the European Council and Commission to ‘examine the possibility of restricting all trophy imports, to ensure proper implementation of the rules by Member States, and to persuade countries that are issuing permits to trophy hunters without due consideration for the impacts of trophy hunting on conservation and animal welfare to discontinue this practice’. MEPs have until 18th April 2016 to support the Declaration.

Born Free needs your help. Please urgently contact your MEP and ask him or her to support Written Declaration 0003/2016 before 18th April 2016.

If you are living in the UK, identify your MEP here

If you are living in other EU country, identify your MEP here

If you are living outside the EU, write to Ms Cecilia Wikström, Chair of the Petitions Committee:

Parlement européen
Bât Altiero Spinelli
60 Rue Wiertz
B-1047 Brussels

Born Free has produced a short video message by Neena Gill in support of the Declaration, which can be viewed here

Thank you! Please act just as soon as you can!

Trophy Hunting – Is The Tide Turning?

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

Trophy hunting is in the news again.

The ghost of Cecil, Donald Trump’s sons and their bloody exploits, and the seeming acceptance by Prince William that the trophy hunting of old, infirm animals can deliver conservation and community benefits, continue to grab the headlines.

Let me consider this in more detail:

Trophy hunting – the killing of wild animals for ‘fun’ – generates about US$200million a year across the whole of Africa, half of that in South Africa.

Wildlife tourism – that does not involve killing of wild animals – generates about $1 billion a year in Kenya alone.

Research by Economists at Large indicates that instead of delivering significant resources to impoverished local communities, only about 3% of trophy hunting revenues are applied at local community level.

Far from being in favour of trophy hunting, the tide is turning against it, with all trophy hunting recently being banned in Botswana, formerly a strong trophy hunting proponent.

Huge question marks hang over the sustainability of the practice, with the EU banning or suspending trophy imports of:

  • Lions: from Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia (suspension), Mozambique
  • African elephants: from Cameroon (suspension), Mozambique, Tanzania
  • Hippos:  from Cameroon, Mozambique (Suspension)

There is much to admire about the way Prince William and United for Wildlife are helping tackle the Illegal Wildlife Trade. The Declaration of the International Taskforce on the Transportation of Illegal Wildlife Products, signed just days ago at Buckingham Palace, and an initiative lead by Lord Hague, has brought together powerful players in the transport sector to help strangle the illegal wildlife supply chain between the field and the markets.

However, on trophy hunting, I think the Prince has been poorly advised and, in my view, the views hen expressed are increasingly out of step with a growing body of evidence and the progressive views of the majority of citizens.

I hope that his views will change and evolve as the Prince becomes more informed and more confident about this particular issue.

The bottom line is this:

There are 7.4 billion people alive today. That number will rise to 11 billion by the end of this century.

Compared to that:

There are 400,000 wild African elephants. There are about 80,000 wild giraffe. There are about 25,000 wild rhino. There are maybe 20,000 wild African lions…

Trophy hunting is the preserve of a tiny elite who, by virtue of nothing more than their wealth, have the power to take the life of some of the world’s most magnificent wild animals, thereby depriving the rest of us of seeing, experiencing and admiring those animals (even from afar) and depriving the animals themselves of their very existence – for sport, for ‘fun’.

How can that be right?

We need a new compact with nature, one that compassionately conserves, protects and respects life. We can no longer subscribe to the notion of ‘it pays, it stays.’ We need to come up with a way of conserving life on Earth, not because of its economic value but because of its intrinsic values – that should be our job, our responsibility as human beings.

I think we are evolving in the right direction – the question is, will we evolve in time before thousands more animals needlessly lose their lives – for fun!

Blogging off


‘Land of the Lions’ – The Conservation Claims of Zoos

Monday, March 21st, 2016

As London Zoo opens a new £5.2 million “Land of the Lions” exhibit, Chris Draper comments on the costs and conservation claims of zoos

Here’s the all-too-familiar blurb accompanying the announcement of the Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) new Asiatic lion exhibit at London Zoo:

ZSL’s two zoos play a central role in educating the public on conservation issues and supporting global conservation breeding, ensuring a ‘safety net’ against extinction and protecting the genetic viability of species. ZSL’s new Land of the Lions exhibit will inspire our visitors and also supports an international breeding effort.

The usual “conservation” fanfare that accompanies every new enclosure, new building, new event at a zoo. It seems that anytime a zoo does anything the PR mantra remains the same: it’s all about conservation.

The trouble is that while zoos are so quick to use the language of “conservation this” and “education that”, when you really try to nail zoos down on what exactly they do for conservation and education, the façade starts to crack.

Yes, some zoos give some funds to field conservation – funds that may be desperately needed – but these funds are, as my colleague Ian Redmond has termed them, “scraps from the table” – a pittance compared to the income made by these zoos each year. Fund-raising for conservation simply is neither the priority nor the mandate for zoos. For example, 2014 finances for the ZSL (the charitable organisation that operates London and Whipsnade Zoos) show that it spends at least five times more on simply keeping and displaying animals at its two zoos than it does on all its conservation programmes. And zoo associations such as the US-based Association of Zoos and Aquariums encourage their members to commit a paltry 3% of their income to field conservation (and that figure is aspirational). As a means of generating funds for conservation, running a zoo seems to be a remarkably inefficient and wasteful way to operate.

And while the conservation funds raised by zoos are relatively uninspiring, their expenditure is astronomical: $28m on a gorilla exhibit at Houston Zoo; €11.3m on an elephant exhibit at Opel Zoo in Germany; $56m on the Smithsonian National Zoo’s elephant exhibit, the list of new developments in recent years goes on and on – by modern zoo standards, London Zoo’s £5.2 million is actually a relatively modest spend for an animal exhibit.

But £5.2m would represent a relatively earth-shattering sum for the conservation of the Asiatic lion – if only the funds were being spent in India and not on keeping animals captive in Regent’s Park for visitors to gawp at.

But surely £5.2m at least delivers a state-of-the-art enclosure, replicating life in the wild near-perfectly and allowing the animals a wide range of behavioural opportunities? Well, London Zoo’s “Land of the Lions” is proudly stated to be 2,500m2. Sounds a fair size? Well, not when you consider that this is around the size of 1/3 of a football pitch; or when you consider that the natural range of an Asiatic lion in India is about 12,000 times that size! In fact, the whole of London Zoo (approx. 37 acres) would fit into the range of one wild Asiatic lion 200 times over.

The message from zoos seems to be this: build small, spend big, and call it conservation.

Year Of The Lion … A Year of Anniversaries

Sunday, March 13th, 2016

There are some anniversaries that you would rather forget – particularly as you get older – like your birthday!

But there are others that you want to treasure or celebrate.

2016 is littered with anniversaries.

It is 50 years since the film Born Free received its Royal Premier on 14th March 1966 in the presence of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.  The pictures of mum and dad being presented to The Queen are still deeply moving.

It is 32 years since The Born Free Foundation, then Zoo Check, was born on 19th March.  It truly does not seem more than a few years ago since a small band of like-minded individuals gathered in that room in Chelsea and six of us, including my Mum and Dad, put £1 in the hat – and the rest is history.  That meeting reminds me of Margaret Mead’s famous quote “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

It is 27 years since George Adamson was so brutally and callously murdered in Kenya, losing his life rushing to the rescue of a guest who had travelled to his camp and who had been waylaid by murderous bandits near the airstrip.  George, and the way he lived his life, mentor me.

It is 24 years since we helped fly three of the last captive dolphins within the UK to freedom and effectively ended the exploitation of the species in the UK.

It is 22 years since my Dad passed away.  His vision, determination and compassion continues to guide Born Free in everything we do and the way we think every single day.

It is 14 years since, after 15 years of work, led by Born Free, Europe adopted the European Zoos Directive bringing some sense of order and minimum welfare standards to the 3,500 or more zoos across the Union.  It is imperfect and it could be better but we are far better off with it than without it.

It is also 14 years since Born Free USA began to deliver our message of compassionate conservation to millions of caring citizens across the United States.

It is 4 years since the then UK coalition government announced that it would end the use of wild animals in travelling circuses in England – a pledge repeated by the Prime Minister in writing to Virginia only a few weeks ago.  The Government still has to find the Parliamentary time to deliver on its promise but it is one that we and millions of others will hold them to.

2016 is the Year of the Lion, a species in peril.  Numbers are down from perhaps 100,000 fifty years ago to 20,000 today.  There is no time to lose.

So, what better anniversary than 2016 to make a pledge to join hands and to work together for lions and all the world’s beleaguered wildlife species, and individual animals who suffer unnecessarily because of what we as humans do to them. With our combined efforts countless animals can look to a brighter more compassionate future if we all play our part.

But the bottom line is, it doesn’t need to be a special anniversary in order for us to do something. Protecting and conserving threatened species, safe-guarding wild animal welfare and helping the world’s most disenfranchised communities are things we can do each and every day.

Let’s get cracking!

Blogging off.


P.S. My mother and I recently reflected on the #YearOfTheLion … Watch it here!

Zoos’ Covert Action Ends Hopes of a Wild Life for Swazi Elephants

Thursday, March 10th, 2016

Shocking news: Despite widespread international concern, the condemnation of numerous world-class elephant conservation and welfare experts, and a pending lawsuit, three US Zoos have swooped on 18 ‘surplus’ wild elephants from the Kingdom of Swaziland.

The following is the response from my colleagues on the Born Free team.

“It has emerged that 18 formerly wild elephants from Swaziland, 15 of whom are under the age of 12, are on the move to the U.S., destined for zoos in Wichita, Dallas, and Omaha.

The three zoos first announced their plan in October 2015, to widespread condemnation from the animal protection community. Born Free Foundation and Born Free USA joined many groups in outlining their concerns in significant detail to the authorities and opposing the import.

The zoos obtained a permit to import the elephants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in January. Shortly thereafter, our colleagues at Friends of Animals in the U.S. filed a lawsuit aiming to demonstrate that the USFWS had a mandatory duty to “fully evaluate and disclose whether the elephants, as a result of captivity, would suffer social, psychological, behavioural and physical impacts for the rest of their lives.”

Despite a preliminary injunction hearing scheduled for next week, an anonymous source apparently contacted a representative for Friends of Animals on Tuesday evening to alert the person to a plane that had landed in Swaziland, and to the fact that the elephants would be loaded within 24 hours.

As a result, Friends of Animals secured enough information to support a temporary request for an emergency restraining order, which was granted by the court. Unfortunately, in what was reported by the group to be an “underhanded move,” the zoos had already moved to anesthetize, crate, and transfer the elephants. This led to the courts dissolving the restraining order on the grounds that the zoos claimed that moving the elephants back to the reserve would subject the elephants “to a lot of unnecessary risk.”

Born Free Foundation and Born Free USA are convinced that the export of elephants to these zoos has less to do with elephant overpopulation, drought in Swaziland, or rhinoceros conservation, as has been claimed, and much more to do with the U.S. zoo industry attempting to shore up the decline in its captive elephant population. The kill proposed by Swaziland is an unacceptable solution, but sale for a lifetime in captivity is a close second when there are wild areas within the species’ natural range to which these individual animals could be relocated.

Meanwhile, the population of African elephants in zoos is declining as an inevitable consequence of the problems inherent with keeping these animals in captivity. Research has shown that infanticide, herpes, tuberculosis, lameness, obesity, infertility, and behavioural problems are prevalent in zoo elephants, and survivorship is severely compromised when compared to wild elephants.

Adam M. Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA and Born Free Foundation, said:

“We are appalled with the decision by USFWS to allow these wild animals to be removed from their natural habitat and by the actions of the zoos involved. This is the second time in more than a decade that Swaziland’s Big Game Parks has looked to captivity as a supposed solution for apparent mismanagement of its national parks. Exporting wild elephants to zoos in America is absurd, unethical, and ineffective. It is shameful that the three U.S. zoos would exploit the unethical wildlife management practices in Swaziland for their own gain, and that the U.S. government will allow this to happen. We will maintain vigilant attention to the issue of live international trade in elephants for captivity and work with government authorities and CITES [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora] to restrict or eliminate future shipments.”

It is shameful and I am disgusted.

Blogging off


The Search For New Solutions

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

Day 2. My report from the Wildlife Trade Conference in The Hague.

Today was all about Working Groups. Demand-reduction; Tourism; Governance; Technology; The Financial Sector; and Sustainable Livelihoods.

The idea was that each Working Group would seek to identify new opportunities and possible Wildlife Deals. I’ll report on the two I attended.

The Financial Sector meeting was fascinating. Trying to understand how we can choke off the ability of the criminal networks involved in wildlife crime to launder and ‘legitimize’ the proceeds of their heinous acts, drew on the experience of efforts to deal with drugs, illegal arms and money laundering.

Clearly there is a fine balance to be struck between the rights of individual citizens to privacy and the need to make life as difficult as possible for those who deal in death, destruction and despair.

I hope to be joining the international team looking into how the Financial Sector can play a leading role in international efforts to end wildlife trafficking.

The Technology Working Group was a little more predictable. Throughout my nearly 30 years’ experience in wildlife trade, we have often been presented with the latest high-tech ideas designed to defeat the poachers. In the last few years, many have pinned their hopes on the use of drones, or unmanned flying vehicles. However, closer examination reveals that limited range, relatively short flying time, fragility and the inability to repair a machine that goes wrong, suggests that drones may only have very limited application in the field. The presentations at this Conference focused on the use of forensic science (think CSI) which certainly makes sense; the development of a dedicated data-gathering App for use in the field (again, makes sense); and using the wild animals themselves and specific changes in their behaviour to trigger human intervention.

I am all for effective technology. I prefer it to be low tech. I am concerned that any new ideas must take account of the fact that many wildlife law enforcement agencies do not necessarily have the resources to respond to a call to action, triggered remotely by a transmitter in the middle of nowhere. The countries where I have worked have huge resource challenges and simply do not have squads of armed Rangers in Land Rovers or airplanes on standby, 24/7, to leap into action in response to what might well prove to be a false alarm.

So, no ‘silver bullet’ answer to the illegal wildlife trade but overall a very worthwhile fresh look at new ideas, many of which could make a real difference.

Thursday 3rd March is World Wildlife Day, a subject I have covered in previous blogs. If you are reading this on WWD2016 itself and have yet to take action, then please try to find the time to do something for wildlife – no matter how large and small. You’ll be glad you did because it shows that, together, we can make this a better world, one animal at a time!

Look out for more news on my Twitter feed @willtravers

Blogging off

See previous blog!


Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

Dear Friends,

So, the Save Wildlife Conference has started here in The Hague, in the Netherlands.

Day 1 contained few surprises. Many familiar faces who, like me, have been grappling with the challenges of how to control (and in my case end) rampant trade and protect wildlife species, gathered yet again. The challenges presented by the illegal wildlife trade were as stark as ever. How can we give this critical issue a higher international priority when it competes with such great concerns as employment, the global financial slowdown, the refugee crisis and any number of wars around the world?

Set piece morning presentations gave way, in the afternoon, to discussions on various issues, including wildlife law enforcement and the similarities between the illegal wildlife trade and the drugs trade. The audience was given the opportunity to ask questions.

I stuck up my hand. Here’s the gist of what I said (with some extra explanatory words):

“Thank you Chair and thank you to our hosts for convening this important meeting.

I want to challenge the paradigm ‘if it pays it stays’ and change it to ‘if it stays it sometimes pays but we must make sure it stays anyway’.

This approach would require a different way of thinking but is not without precedent. Many countries, including many represented at this meeting, have concluded that some things are so intrinsically valuable that, rather than entrusting their future to the volatility of the markets or to the mood of the moment, investment by the State on behalf of society as a whole is justified and, indeed, essential. Museums across the world are a prime example of this approach, museums that almost exclusively display human-created artefacts we value so much. Why then, as a species, do we seem to find it so hard to embrace that approach when it comes to the natural treasures of our planet, natural treasures everyone in this room and hundreds of millions if not billions of global citizens deeply value and appreciate?

Why must wildlife, living creatures, have to pay their way based in a simplistic, crude economic model?

We, here in Europe, understand that, without support, areas critical for the survival of wildlife in the wild will be lost forever. Hence our farmers receive financial support to set aside land for the conservation of biodiversity. It is does what it says on the tin – it is called ‘set aside’.

Truly I doubt whether sustainable use is really ‘sustainable’. I believe that a fully applied, independent A-Z analysis of so-called ‘sustainability’ when it comes to the exploitation of wildlife would conclude that it is, in fact, unsustainable. Think about it….the flights, the cars, the services, the consumables…

I believe we have moved beyond true sustainability. So let’s not call it something that it really is not.

We moved beyond sustainability some time ago and it is only going to get worse. The 7.4 billion people living on the planet today will rise to 11 billion by the end of this century. Africa’s human population of about 1 billion today will rise to 4 billion in the same period, according to the UN. Kenya has 45 million citizens today. This will rise to 160 million by 2100.

My point is this:

If you are tempted to agree with me, how can our future policies and strategies create the long-term financial, social and conservation framework that will sustain the global protected area network, the community lands set aside for wildlife, and the earth’s biodiversity for the future. How can we do this if we only protect species because they ‘pay their way’?”

The panel on the stage before me seemed reluctant to meaningfully engage.  Maybe they were uncomfortable with the idea that the decades-old mantra, ‘use it of lose it’, might be losing ground, that the institutional empires built on the notion of ‘sustainable use’ might be under threat, or maybe it was my conclusion – that there are simply too many of us and too few of them, whoever ‘they’ are.

During the week when we celebrate World Wildlife Day (3rd March 2016), the world’s wildlife is under relentless pressure. We are the problem. The ongoing, so-called ‘sustainable use’ of species is not,  in my view, the solution.

Blogging off