Archive for April, 2016

The Spirit of Elsa Marches to Downing Street and Roars for Lions!

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

30th APRIL 2016,

Dear Friends,

The Born Free team, here, in the USA , in Kenya and around the world, has been campaigning for lions for many, many years.

Some people think we should be doing more and, of course, we can always do more but in this, 2016 Born Free’s Year of the Lion, we are going all out.

Supporting the excellent work of the Kenya Wildlife Service who are monitoring and protecting lions in Meru National Park, Elsa’s heartland.

Building more than 220 Predator Proof Bomas in the Amboseli ecosystem (southern Kenya and northern Tanzania) which reduces the incidence of night-time predation on livestock to zero – and consequently dramatically reduces the likelihood of retaliatory attacks by local people for livestock losses.

Working with the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority to seek to record and quantify the remote the wild lion population of Alatash and Zakouma (western Ethiopia and South Sudan).

In partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit of Oxford University and Dr Hans Bauer, assisting in the development of National Lion Conservation Strategies in a number of West African countries.

Thanks to support from the UK Government’s Wildlife Challenge initiative, building wildlife law enforcement capacity in the Horn of Africa where massive and porous land borders represent an opportunity for the illegal wildlife trade to flourish.

Assisting with the promotion of Blood Lions, the extraordinary documentary that recently blew the lid off South Africa’s ‘canned hunting’ industry.

Successfully advocating, through Born Free USA, for the inclusion of lions on the United States’ Endangered Species Act.

Campaigning to persuade the 182 Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to afford African lions the highest level of protection against commercial exploitation.

With the help of our incredibly generous supporters around the world, paying for the rescue and care of desperately needy captive lions, relocated from appealing captive conditions to our wonderful Sanctuaries in South Africa, Ethiopia and Malawi.

And now, on Saturday the 30th April, speaking out against the ongoing and brutal trophy hunting of lions.

Our Founder, Virginia McKenna (my mum), will add her voice to many others, including Britain’s most well-known scientist Stephen Hawking who has agreed to sign the letter that will be delivered to the Prime Minister in Downing Street, calling for an end to lion trophy hunting and import of lion trophies into the UK.

Details of the march here

I think it is wonderful that such an extraordinary mind is focussed both on the outer reaches of space and the possibility of extra terrestrial life, AND on helping compassionately conserve life here on earth.

But that is what profound thinkers do!

I have no doubt that, between us, we can find a way of ending such cruelty and bloody exploitation, protecting wild lions and the wild places they rely on – and securing a future for lions and the rest of life on Earth.

Yes, we can always do more. But, through Born Free, and hand in hand with like-minded individuals and our world-wide partners, the spirit of Elsa burns bright. We shall never give up!

Blogging off!


‘Should We Close Our Zoos?’ – Our Verdict

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

Dear Friends,

This is possibly one of the most important (and longest) blogs I have ever posted but please persevere. I think you might agree.

In March 1984 when, originally called Zoo Check, a small group of individuals (including my mother, father and myself) dipped our toes in the murky waters of the the zoo world, we were dismissed by the then Director of the London Zoo as a ‘nine day wonder’.

The bare-faced arrogance and cheek of it. A bunch of ‘actors’ and ‘luvvies’ questioning the purpose and existence of zoos. Preposterous!

And not just practical matters like animal welfare; the quality of the captive environment; the prevalence of abnormal ‘stereotypic’ behaviours; the apparent lack of real education; the validity of captive-breeding programmes and the so-called ‘conservation dividend’ – but the ethical and moral justifications for locking wild animals up for life on the basis that they are ‘ambassadors for their species’ and that their sacrifice would be the species’ gain.

My late father Bill spent most of the last three years of his life travelling round numerous European zoos, filming, recording and exposing the physical and mental suffering of the numerous animals he saw. The strange, repetitive, seemingly pointless behaviours he saw he called ‘zoochotic’. And, as had been the case so many times in the past, he was years ahead of his time. He proved that the zoo industry, a multi-billion-dollar global business based on the incarceration of millions of wild animals, was out of time.

On Sunday the 17th April 2016, BBC Two broadcast a Horizon documentary entitled ‘Should We Close Our Zoos?’. Modern broadcasting. Contemporary, insightful, probing, fair but tough. Liz Bonnin asked the same questions we were asking over 30 years ago and she seemed to draw the same conclusion.

We said it then, and we have been saying it ever since. Based on the evidence, in our view, the ‘zoo experiment’ has failed.

For this very special blog, I have asked my mother, the co-founder of the Born Free Foundation and the constant moral compass of this organisation for more than 30 years, to offer her thoughts, not only about the past and the present, but of the future.

Here are her thoughts:

At last. A programme that scientifically analyses and questions the relevance of zoos, the future of zoos, and the significance of zoos. I am grateful to Liz Bonnin for courageously challenging the zoo establishment. I must give credit to some individuals, some from the zoo world, for being more than usually frank about the true reality of ‘saving species’. I wish to especially acknowledge the contribution by David Hancocks, Professor Georgia Mason and Dr. Sarah Bexell.

Can conservation in zoos have any relevance whatsoever? Education is obviously a non-starter. I recall, according to Horizon, that just 3% of larger zoos’ massive global income is applied to conservation in the field.

The first and most urgent need is to ensure that wild areas and the wild species they are home to must be effectively protected. Zoos, with their massive resources have, so far, spectacularly failed to make the kind of investment needed to secure wild places and biodiversity. Cherry-picking a handful of the world’s most charismatic species (as David Hancocks so accurately points out) is not really conservation, as does Sarah Bexell who, having invested 20 or more years in the idea that captive breeding can make a measurable and significant contribution to conservation, comes to the painful conclusion that the experiment has largely ‘failed’. My goodness how I feel for her and admire her honesty.

Keeping millions of wild animals alive as living museum exhibits is no solution and puts us, their ‘keepers’ to shame.

While, I must admit, I was a little disappointed that there was no spokesperson from Born Free – considering that it was many years ago (32 to be exact), that we first publicly set out our views on the relevance (and humanity) of ‘conservation’ of species in captivity, I am enormously gratified that the concerns we have expressed for so very long are now, perhaps, the mainstream and are no longer the preoccupations of a few ‘misguided actors’.

Years before Zoo Check, many years before The Born Free Foundation, Bill wrote: ‘We can learn as much about lions by studying them in their cages as we can about men by studying them in their prison cells’.

The evidence has been staring us in the face since then. How many more years must pass before we admit our mistakes, not out of a sense of guilt but in a desire to do the right thing, to make things better, to learn?

It would be more humane and wise for zoos to recognise that the experiment is over, that we must make amends now before the future of wildlife on earth is over and all we have to remind us of our misguided past – are zoos.

My mum is 85 this year. They say that with age comes wisdom. Will we have the wisdom to listen to her and act?

I would ask you to please share this blog. Thank you.

Blogging off.


PS You can watch the programme here:

(Available to viewers in the UK; if you are outside the UK, you may not be able to view the programme).

And visit our Zoo Check pages here

Lions Matter

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

Dear Friends of Wildlife,

As the relatively good news about tiger numbers filters through – the population in the wild is now hovering near 4,000 – the situation facing lions continues to worsen.

It is hard to imagine that a species which can still be found in two dozen countries in Africa could be in such a terrible state but with perhaps only 20,000 lions across the whole Continent, it couldn’t get much worse – or could it?

Pressures on the species include:  fragmentation and loss of their habitat; the depletion of their natural prey (antelope, gazelle, etc); the increased risk of conflict with human communities and subsequent persecution (poisoning, spearing, shooting, etc.); and the threat of trophy hunting still hangs over the heads (quite literally) of up to 600 lions a year!

While many organisations, including Born Free, are doing what they can in the field, international attention is beginning to turn towards trophy hunting and some serious questions are being asked:

• Does it really deliver conservation dividends?
• Does it help conserve lions and their wild habitat?
• Is it ethical to kill animals for ‘fun’?

On top of all that, the ‘canned hunting’ industry in South Africa, where 6,000 – 8,000 lions are bred and held in captivity for the sole purpose of being shot to end up as trophies, may be stimulating an ‘out of control’ demand for wild lion products.

Currently, the South African government authorises the legal export of lion bones and skeletons from the canned hunting industry to south-east Asia where they are used as a surrogate for tiger bones (which are illegal).  In my view, this legal trade is dramatically stimulating demand and the latest figures concerning the export of lion bones from South Africa indicates that a tonne or more of bones were shipped out in 2013.  It also indicates that the number of lion skeletons shipped out in 2013 from South Africa to China, Lao PDR, Vietnam and Thailand was (wait for it) just under 4,000.

I can barely imagine the horror of these ‘lion breeding factories’ in South Africa and the welfare implications for the individual animals involved.

But I can imagine the poaching community looking at this growing and lucrative legal trade and seeing an opportunity.  An opportunity to poach and launder wild lion bones, body parts and skeletons under cover of the legal trade, and literally make a ‘killing’.

If we are not to witness the ongoing decline of wild lions and if we are to prevent them becoming, like the tiger, critically endangered, then the time for action is now.  South Africa must close down the legal export trade of lion body parts, skeletons and bones; the international community must curtail or, preferably, end lion trophy hunting; we must all step up our work with local communities to reduce conflict;  we must increase investment in lion conservation across their range; and, as Born Free is already doing, we must work with national authorities in lion Range States to develop national lion conservation strategies throughout Africa so that people who care about lions, know what the detailed plan is and know where they can invest their support.

The African lion is a symbol of all that is wild and free in Africa.  The future of the species must be secured.  They must not disappear – not on our watch.

Blogging off

Recommended links:

Adopt a lion with Born Free
BBC Wildlife – Spring 2016
Blood Lions
Born Free’s Meru Lion Project
Born Free’s Lion-Proof Bomas
Hans Bauer and the New Lion Population in Alatash

Sometimes it is all about going the extra mile!

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016

Dear Friends,

Sometimes it is all about going the extra mile!

And sometimes it is about recognising the extraordinary effort that many caring people make to achieve a real difference for wild animals in need and conservation.

So these two little words – ‘thank you’ – represent my heartfelt appreciation on behalf of everyone at Born Free to the following individuals who are not going the extra mile but the extra 26 miles for the cause!

Brighton Marathon (16/04/16): Mark Jones (Born Free’s Wildlife Programmes Manager); Margaret Winniak; James Dunne; and Stephen Payne (from Kuoni, one of our corporate sponsors, in Brighton)

London Marathon (24/04/16): Jon Green; Susan Slater; Alison Woodier; Jonathan Aves; John Heywood (who is 80 years old!); Marianne Mitchel; Eric Web; Anne French; David Sheldon …..  And the team from Land Rover who are also running the London Marathon for Born Free: Richard Parker; Stephen Easy; Richard Williams; Ketan Sharma; Orla Murphy; Dimitri Stoliopoulos; Natalia Youhno; William Hannis; Marshall O’Donnell; and Anthony Towers.

If you would like to show your support for these Born Free heroes who have spent months pounding the streets in preparation for the Big One, then please sponsor them here

Running the Marathon is just one example of how we often need to take the long way round to achieve success.

We started campaigning for a European Zoos Directive to secure minimum standards for all zoos in the EU in 1987. The Directive was passed in 2002.

We started calling for an end to the use of wild animals in UK circuses in 1994 – maybe this year the Prime Minister will deliver on his promise by finding the Parliamentary time to bring in a ban in England.

We started fighting the bloody international ivory trade and poaching in 1989 and we are still fighting it today, as we are the use of live animals in performances and the keeping of wild animals as ‘pets’.

It’s all about making progress one step and a time or, in the case of our Marathon women and men, at least 30,000 steps!

Good luck each and every one of you! And thanks again!

Blogging off

The Start of Something Very Special For Tigers

Friday, April 1st, 2016

Several years ago, the incredibly talented jewellery designer, Catherine Best, created a ‘one-of-a-kind’ piece – gold, diamonds, emeralds and other precious stones combined in sinuous, entwined tiger form to become the famous Shere Khan necklace.

Symbolic of hope for wild tigers, in 2014 the necklace was the centrepiece of Born Free’s 30th Anniversary celebrations. It stunned everyone who saw it.

Last night it was on display again to wow a new audience at the launch of a new relationship between The Born Free Foundation and Taj Hotels, one of the world’s pre-eminent luxury hotel, lodge and resort brands.

Our partnership has one objective – to raise awareness about the plight of the wild Bengal tiger and work for the protection of the species through Born Free’s Satpuda Tiger Landscape Project (STLP).

Guests at the event (held at St James’ Court, a Taj Hotel in central London) included, His Excellency The Indian High Commissioner, Mr Siddhartha Butalia (Director of Marketing at Taj), Danielle Bux, Nick Knowles, Gary Lineker, Jim Moir (Vic Reeves) and his wife Nancy, Gary Webster and Wendy Turner Webster, Mridula Tangirala (Taj Associate VP Safari Operations), Lily Travers, Professor Claudio Sillero, Rani Singh, and many more.

Born Free Founder, Virginia McKenna, read a beautiful excerpt from the new limited edition of The Jungle Book and I was honoured to MC the evening which included a host a range of on-going fund-raising opportunities.

Full details are detailed on our website here

Also on the page above, and as part of the wonderful partnership, are details of our collaboration with Taj partners, Greaves Travel, who are hosting a bespoke Born Free ‘India Tiger Safari’. This bespoke luxury holiday will include beautiful luxury lodges, opportunities to view incredible wildlife, cultural sites and our work in action, all accompanied by a Born Free expert.

A donation will be made to Born Free for every holiday booked, and this will go towards Born Free’s tiger conservation work in India.

The SLTP is a truly collaborative project between Born Free and ten Indian NGO partners working to secure the largest contiguous area of tiger habitat in India, including a number of official Tiger Reserves. Minimising the potential for conflict, generating sustainable community benefits and reducing human impact on lands connecting the Protected Areas, are all part of the Project’s Mission.  Its value to tiger conservation is becoming widely-recognised and membership applications from groups wishing to join the partnership include one from nearly 1,000 kilometres away!

I believe that there is a long-term future for wild tigers in India. My optimism is based on a combination of the clear political commitment, at both Federal and State level, to the future of the species and the habitat it relies on; the dedication of international, national and local NGOs; the tolerance of local people; and the special place the tiger – the symbol of India’s wildlife – holds in the hearts of hundreds of millions of India citizens for who a future without wild tigers would be unthinkable.

If last night is anything to go by, the powerful combination of Taj Hotels and Born Free provides yet another reason for optimism that wild tigers will still be around to inspire and enthral for many generations to come!

Blogging off


Adopt a Tiger with Born Free
Click here more information on Taj