Archive for June, 2016

Cecil’s Legacy 12 Months On

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

cecil the lion

The lives – and deaths – of some wild animals can truly shape the future. Elsa, Pole Pole, Tillikum… and Cecil.  Just over 12 months ago few had heard of Cecil but, as my Born Free colleague, veterinarian Mark Jones, explains in this guest Blog, Cecil The Lion is now known to millions around the world and his death may just be the catalyst for profound change.

Blogging off
Will

Cecil’s Legacy, 12 Months On

A year ago, a lion called Cecil was killed in Zimbabwe by American dentist and trophy hunter Walter Palmer, who reportedly paid $50,000 for the privilege.

It subsequently came to light that Cecil may have been lured away from the protection of Hwange National Park in which he usually resided, in order to enable Palmer to target him. It also transpired that Cecil had been tracked and studied by Oxford University since 2008 as part of a conservation research project, and was fitted with a radio collar.

Palmer tried to kill the lion using a bow and arrow; in the event, Cecil was wounded by Palmer’s incompetent shot, and reports suggest he wasn’t finally killed for a further 40 hours, following which Palmer and his hunting guide beheaded and skinned him, and tried to hide his radio collar.

Palmer has not been charged with any crime in either Zimbabwe or his native USA. His hunter-guide, Theo Bronkhorst was charged in Zimbabwe with ‘failing to prevent an unlawful hunt’, although as of January 2016 the case remained unresolved after a series of appeals.

Cecil was around 13 years old when he was killed, had led more than one lion pride during his life, and at the time of his death was presiding over several females alongside another male called Jericho. The two lions had recently sired a number of cubs. The manner of his death sparked international outrage, much of which was initially targeted at Palmer. Tourism revenues in Zimbabwe reportedly fell sharply, and senior politicians in a number of countries condemned the killing.

The events also led to increased scrutiny of the trophy hunting industry. Analysis suggests that, on average, as many as 170,000 hunting trophies are shipped across international borders each year, around 20,000 of which are derived from threatened species. The United States is by far the biggest single importer, with Germany and Spain being the main European trophy destinations. The more iconic and endangered an animal is, the higher the hunting fees: in January 2014, American hunter Corey Knowlton paid US$350,000 for a permit to hunt a critically endangered black rhino in Namibia, which he eventually killed in May 2015.

Claims by hunting proponents that trophy hunting benefits wildlife conservation and local communities are being challenged. In 2012, a report by Economists at Large entitled The $200 Million Question cast doubt on the claimed value of the trophy hunting industry, and found that trophy hunting contributed only 1.8% of total tourism income across nine African countries with hunting companies passing just 3% of their income to local African communities. A report by the Democratic staff of the House Natural Resources Committee in the US, published in June 2016, found little evidence that trophy hunting revenues are being used to help threatened species, mostly because of rampant corruption in some countries and poor management of wildlife programmes; the report concluded that trophy hunting may be contributing to the extinction of some species. An academic paper published in the journal Ecological Applications in June 2016 recognised that trophy hunting has had negative effects on lion populations across Africa.

Since Cecil’s death, some significant actions have been taken. France announced a ban on lion trophy imports in November 2015, and the Netherlands introduced a ban on the import of hunting trophies from around 200 species, including lions, the following April. In January 2016, the US Fisheries and Wildlife Service added lions to the Endangered Species Act, making it more difficult for American lion trophy hunters to ship their trophies home. A host of airlines have banned or restricted the carriage of hunting trophies, and the death of Cecil was cited by a number of officials as being influential in the development and adoption of the United Nations’ Resolution on Wildlife Trafficking.

The European Union is proposing much stricter international controls on the setting of trophy quotas and the export of trophies of threatened species, for consideration at the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species due to take place in Johannesburg in September 2016.

Born Free is wholly opposed to the killing of animals for sport or pleasure whether they are wild-born or bred in captivity, and we have been working to bring the brutality of this so-called ‘sport’ to the attention of policymakers, enforcement bodies, and the public, for many years. Horrific though Cecil’s killing was, it has focussed attention on the brutality of trophy hunting, and has helped to dispel the myth that the killing of wild animals for fun by a wealthy elite somehow benefits wildlife conservation or local communities. Its continued promotion by a tiny minority undermines our humanity.

Born Free will continue its efforts to bring this cruel, damaging and wholly unacceptable practice to a permanent end, and instead to find humane, effective and sustainable solutions to the threats facing so many wild species.

Cecil’s death must not have been in vain.

Mark Jones
Programmes Manager (Wildlife)
Born Free Foundation

BORN FREE AND THE EU REFERENDUM RESULT:

Friday, June 24th, 2016

Today, the majority of the British people have decided that, after 40 years, the United Kingdom is to leave the European Union.

The consequences of this decision, at least in the short-term, will be uncertainty and doubt. Financial markets are stressed and the political establishment needs to work out the next steps in a process of responsible dis-engagement. It will take us all time to adjust to the new political landscape.

However, one thing is certain: The Born Free Foundation will continue to fight on behalf of wild animal, seek measures to alleviate animal suffering and neglect, and fight for the protection of wildlife and the habitats they rely on.

The voice of Britain’s citizens has been heard, but Born Free must remain the voice of the voiceless, the millions of animals exploited in captivity for so-called entertainment, killed in their hundreds of thousands for trinkets such as ivory or pseudo-medicinal products such as rhino horn, or shot for ‘fun’ by the trophy-hunting elite.

Our conviction that individual animals matter will not change. At a national, regional and global level Born Free and its supporters around the world will to strive for a more compassionate future for life on earth. We must all redouble our efforts to make this dream come true.

Will Travers OBE
CEO and President
The Born Free Foundation

Baltimore decides to #emptythetanks

Monday, June 20th, 2016

As another dolphin display facility takes a brave step forward, in this guest blog I have asked my good friend and colleague, Samantha Goddard, to reflect on the prospect of a brave new world. Blogging off! Will

“Monday, June 13th 2016, bought fantastic news in global efforts to end the captive exploitation of dolphins. The Baltimore National Aquarium (Maryland, USA) announced that they are to move their eight bottlenose dolphins to a coastal seawater sanctuary by 2020.  The Director of the Aquarium, John Racanelli, eloquently stated that the decision is ‘right for the dolphins, the community and for the aquarium.’

The news follows the recent announcement from SeaWorld Entertainments which introduced an immediate and companywide ban of their orca breeding program in March this year. This means that the generation of orca currently held at SeaWorld parks will be the last.

The move to change their business model in line with both public opinion and concern is massively significant, although they have yet to determine whether their future plans include moving their 23 orcas to a seaside sanctuary. These announcements confirm in my mind that we are witnessing profound and irreversible change which cannot and will not be stopped.

Clearly part of a new vision for the future will include removing captive cetaceans from tiny concrete pools in favour of sectioned-off parts of the ocean, or seaside sanctuaries. NGOs in the US and Europe have mobilised public opinion to call for the establishment of the first sanctuaries, as announced recently in the US (The Whale Sanctuary Project) and in Italy (Dolphin Refuge). These efforts are vitally important and may have had significant influence on the decision of the Baltimore National Aquarium to support the sanctuary model and idea of caring for dolphins in a wild, more natural environment.

We should all applaud such leadership and hope that others will follow suit to promote the establishment of seaside sanctuaries. After all, the responsibility for captive animals lies with those who keep them captive.

The time really is now to move forward with a solution for addressing the future care of cetaceans already in captivity. That this spells the end for the dolphinarium industry! I have not doubt. It is no longer a matter of if – it’s just a question of when.

Will Harambe’s Death Be The Tipping Point?

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

Yes, it is a tragedy.  One of just 765 Western Lowland Gorillas in zoos worldwide has been needlessly killed.

I say needlessly because although, perhaps, the zoo authorities were faced with few options when confronted by the possibility of a child dying in the gorilla enclosure, the child should never have been there in the first place and, some would argue, neither should the gorilla.

Wise after the event, it is always possible to speculate as to whether the gorilla could have been lured away,  as was successfully done in April 2014 when seven chimps escaped from their enclosure at the Kansas City Zoo and keepers using “treats” enticed the animals back.  No-one was hurt.  One could say that the gorilla could have been tranquilised.  Maybe yes, maybe no.  It is impossible to predict exactly what would have happened once the dart struck home.  Would it have enraged a powerful 400 pound animal with fatal consequences?  Or would the gorilla have accidentally collapsed on and injured or drowned the child as the drug took effect?  Who knows.

But some things seem clear:  The whole basis on which zoos are founded, the placing of human visitors in unrealistically close proximity to potentially dangerous animals relies on there being an assumption on the part of the visitors that it is a safe thing to do.  Otherwise all parents would be issued with harnesses to restrict and control their children throughout the visit.  Some people suggest that the fault lies with the parents –  maybe so, in part.  Others say the zoo did not adequately ensure that barriers, specifically designed to keep wild animals in and human beings out, were not fit for purpose.
Now, predictably, there will be reviews of safety procedures and, doubtless, there will be petitions calling for the parents/the zoo/the licensing agency/the American Zoo Association/the City authorities to be held to account, and who am I to say those are not without justification.

However, there is a wider issue that needs debating here.  Gorillas, like many other species are under enormous pressure in the wild. There are approximately 175,000 Western Lowland gorillas left. There may be fewer than 4,000 Eastern Lowland gorillas clinging to survival in war-torn eastern DRC and there are nearly 1,000 Mountain gorillas making a modest come-back from the brink of extinction (none in zoos). Surely captive breeding in the safe and secure (and mind-numbingly unnatural) captive facilities offered by the world’s zoos is the conservation safety net these species need.  Surely after spending hundreds of millions of dollars (Cincinnati Zoo’s plans for a new gorilla enclosure announced in September last year, will cost at least US$12 million) zoos are making a significant contribution to the survival of the species not least through captive breeding programmes that lead to the re-introduction of gorilla families to the wild.

Not the case.

The number of Western Lowland gorillas that have ever been returned to the wild in recent memory numbers approximately 50, almost exclusively from the zoo collections run by Damian Aspinall in Kent, England.

So, are zoos delivering a conservation dividend?  Are they providing the kind of educational resources that will inspire the naturalists of the future?  Are they a realistic hedge against extinction for more than a  handful of iconic species, largely selected on the basis of the oooh and aaaah factor?

The answer is emphatically no.

The global zoo industry, of which Cincinnati and others are leading members, consumes billions of dollars every year while the conservation movement is crying out for a fraction of that kind of funding to address the habitat and species crisis that now confronts tens of thousands of species.  The very fact that in interviews following the Cincinnati incident, the gorillas has been described as being ‘not blood thirsty’ indicates a Victorian misunderstanding of the true nature of gorillas, despite the work of Dian Fossey, Sir David Attenborough, Ian Redmond and others who have painstakingly tried to address the stereotypic image of gorillas as some kind of half-human monster and the personification of King Kong.

The fundamental question is: are zoos fit for purpose or are they past their sell-by date?  I conclude that they are out of time but then that is just my opinion. Quite reasonably, you may ask, will things ever change?  Born Free Foundation and I have been constant and consistent critics of zoos for over 30 years.  We have been called a “nine-day wonder”.  We have been described as a broken record, repeating the same message but I believe that history will prove us to be right. And change can happen if we, the people, want it badly enough.

Five years ago, the captive marine mammal display industry, as represented in many people’s minds by SeaWorld, seemed invincible.  Today, following the making of one film, Blackfish, SeaWorld has changed beyond all recognition.  No more performances with trainers in the pool; a share price in free-fall; attendance down; profits down; a new CEO fighting to restore some semblance of respectability and now, in partnership with The Humane Society of the USA, SeaWorld  has made an announcement of such profundity that many of us never thought we would hear it in our lifetime:  That the current killer whales they hold will be the last.  There will be no more breeding. There will be no more imports from other facilities.  There will be no more orca in captivity.

Is it too great a leap of faith to imagine that, just as the death of Cecil galvanised the world to reconsider the justification and morality of trophy hunting, so the death of Harambe will cause a seismic readjustment of public attitudes to the lifetime incarceration of millions of animals for little more than costly and, indeed, wasteful public entertainment, a form of exploitation that risks the welfare of the animals concerned and the safety of visitors?

Harambe’s death is not an isolated incident.  According to Born Free USA, since 1990, 15 zoo incidents have resulted in loss of human life and at least 110 injuries.  Keepers have died, members of the public have died, numerous animals have escaped and, time after time, customers have gained access to supposedly secure enclosures where they have suffered injury.

A serious debate about our relationship with wild animals and the natural world is long-overdue.  It is predicated on our common desire to protect and conserve life on Earth and to motivate and inspire human kind.  As part of that debate we must determine whether the zoo experiment, the public display of exotic animals to an increasingly urbanised human society, has any further role to play or whether, in a world that by the end of this century will be jammed-packed with 11 billion human beings, we can make space for wildlife in the wild.

Blogging off

Will