Archive for November, 2016

Hanoi Conference 2016

Friday, November 18th, 2016

Dear Friends,

As the delegates to the Hanoi Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade fly home, we need to reflect on the outcomes.

Ahead of the meeting, hopes for real progress had been high and citizens around the world waited eagerly for news.

The result appears to be distinctly lacking both in lustre and ambition.

While attendees re-affirmed their intention to crack down on the illegal trade in products such as ivory, to pursue demand-reduction strategies and to tackle domestic ivory markets, concrete evidence of progress were sorely lacking.

As Prince William said in his keynote address, “We aren’t moving fast enough to keep up with the crisis”, admitting that “we’re still falling behind.”

Indicators of that lack of progress include:

• the ongoing and devastating impact that it has on wildlife populations of iconic species such as elephants and rhino;

• the murderous way that it is carried out which causes the death not only of hundreds of thousands of wild animals each year but many people including rangers, wardens, community members and, of course, poachers;

• its links to terrorism and organised crime;

• the fact that few people of significance have been arrested and convicted,

• the rate of poaching and illegal trade which seems undiminished;

• evidence of high level corruption which protects those involved.

The Hanoi Conference did indicate a greater willingness on behalf of wealthy countries (notably Germany, the United States, France and the UK) to make higher levels of investment in a suite of measures aimed at tackling wildlife crime from improved enforcement in the field, the training of prosecutors and judiciary; the upgrading of national laws; increased tariffs and penalties, including deterrent sentencing and the sequestration of assets; the disruption of trade supply routes; and additional education-led demand reduction strategies in consumer countries.

Nevertheless any sense that the measures taken so far are having the desired impact is hard to find.

Notwithstanding its welcome step up in terms of financial commitment, the United Kingdom did not announce, as some had hoped, a timetable for the closure of its domestic market but, again, paraded its interim measure – a ban on the sale of all modern, ‘post-1947’ ivory – a move that has been widely criticised as being wholly inadequate.

Already over 63,500 people have signed a Petition calling for immediate and conclusive action to honour a now long-in-the-tooth Manifesto pledge, made in both 2010 and 2014, to “press for a total ban on ivory sales.”

Despite the urgency of the situation (some estimate that one elephant is poached every 15 minutes) and despite evidence broadcast in the BBC documentary ‘Saving Africa’s Elephants – Hugh and the Ivory War’ (BBC1 October 2016) that clearly showed the link between sales of UK ivory declared as ‘antique’ and the laundering of modern ivory to markets in the Far East, the Government plans to ‘consult on the ban in early next year (2017) as a first step to meeting the manifesto commitment.

It is simply not enough.

On a more positive note, the United Kingdom has agreed to host the 4th Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference in 2018 but what sort of picture will we be looking at by then?  Thousands fewer elephants, rhino, pangolins, lions? And what will we read in our newspapers – that another meeting has come and good, fine words have been spoken, more pledges have been made, more hands wrung?

Or will we see the results of concerted international action, based on a proper, published plan, with measurable outcomes that reduce poaching, increase protection, secure convictions, dismantle supply-routes, improve security, champion anti-corruption and depress demand?

I hope so because the world’s threatened wildlife cannot wait, and my friends in ranger forces and wildlife law-enforcement agencies cannot hold back the tide forever.

As things stand, and as Prince William said in Hanoi, “A betting man would still bet on extinction.”

Blogging off
Will

Hanoi Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade

Monday, November 14th, 2016

Dear Friends,

This week, delegates from 54 countries, governments, wildlife professionals, conservationists, wildlife trade experts, charities such as Born Free and our friends in the press and media, will gather in Hanoi, Vietnam, to drive forward efforts to end the illegal wildlife trade, especially the trade in ivory and rhino horn.

Vietnam, our hosts, is regarded as one of the destination countries for illegal wildlife trade but things may be changing.

On November 12th, in an indication of its growing commitment to change and to the protection of threatened wildlife, Vietnam will destroy 2,000 kg of seized ivory, together with 70kg of seized rhino horn. The following is a copy of the text of my video message to the meeting which has been requested by the United Kingdoms’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office and which will be broadcast in the run-up to the meeting.

I have been working on this issue for nearly 33 years. Battles have been won and lost but I believe that we can still win for the animals and that the tide is, at last, turning.

Blogging off

Will

“The upcoming Hanoi Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade is the third in a series of global multi-stakeholder gatherings, initiated in 2014 in London by the United Kingdom Government and United for Wildlife, and followed by the Kasane meeting, hosted by the Government of the Republic of Botswana in 2015. They are all intended to help address the negative impacts of wildlife trafficking on iconic wild species, notably elephants, rhino and lions.

This vitally important meeting, hosted by the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, provides an opportunity to evaluate the progress made so far towards achieving the objectives set out in The London Declaration and enhanced in The Kasane Statement, and to set further goals which will enhance protection, reduce demand and disrupt criminal activities.

Critical to this are six key objectives:

1/ Support and improve intelligence-led enforcement designed to infiltrate and dismantle the activities of organised criminal networks which currently see the illegal exploitation of wildlife as a low risk, high reward, activity.

2/ In line with United Nation’s recommendations, harmonise international penalties and legal sanctions associated with wildlife crime, including deterrent levels of sentencing and the sequestration of assets to increase the risk that those involved in organised wildlife crime are exposed to and to make it clear that, when it comes to wildlife crime, there is nowhere to run.

3/ Support and further encourage those involved in wildlife law enforcement in the field, those involved in applying evidence-based demand reduction strategies and those in the shipping and transport sector to help ensure there is no hiding place for those who would trade in the body parts of some of our planet’s most iconic species.

4/ As endorsed at CITES CoP17, close domestic ivory markets thereby removing the opportunity for illegal wildlife products such as ivory to be laundered through a legal trade.

5/ Destroy or dispose of ivory stockpiles in line with the measures also agreed at CITES CoP17

6/ Harness the talents, energy and commitment of all stakeholders, including civil society, in uniting to defeat wildlife trafficking and secure a future for wild species.  In that regard, I urge UK citizens to sign petition 165905, details of which can be found on the Born Free website (www.bornfree.org.uk)

On behalf of The Born Free Foundation, a member of the Species Survival Network, and our supporters worldwide, we urge the delegates to this Conference to:

Redouble their efforts;

To build on progress to date;

To set targets and timelines for agreed objectives;

To support the implementation of those objectives; and

To respond fully to the deep concerns expressed by people around the world who fear for the survival of wild elephants, rhino, lions and many other species.

Finally, and specifically, we would respectfully ask the Government of Vietnam to further demonstrate its leadership on these issues and its commitment to conservation by introducing measures – including working with partners to resolve human-elephant conflict – that would result in a doubling of the number of wild elephants in the country within the next 10 years

I am grateful for all your hard work and I wish this vitally important meeting great success.

Thank you.”

Will Travers OBE
President and CEO The Born Free Foundation

Zoo Check team member, Katie Richards, blogs on her recent trip to Edinburgh Zoo

Friday, November 11th, 2016

Dear Friends,

As part of Born Free’s long term agenda, I have been visiting zoos for over 30 years. Whilst I have seen some improvements along the way, the vast majority are still significantly substandard. My colleague, Katie Richards has recently been to Edinburgh Zoo and explains all about her visit in her guest blog below.

Blogging off
Will

The newest member of our Zoo Check team, Katie Richards, blogs on her recent trip to Edinburgh Zoo

Since taking up my role within the Zoo Check team 8 months ago, I have visited several zoos across the UK to monitor conditions first hand and to keep an eye on the welfare of the animals. It has been a surprising and sometimes shocking few months, as I have seen many cases of woefully inadequate environments, often lacking in the most basic care, in some of the UK’s most popular zoos.

A recent visit to Edinburgh Zoo stands out in particular. Zoos in the UK have a legal obligation to educate their visitors about biodiversity conservation and to accommodate their animals in appropriate conditions. Yet, on the day of my visit, a capuchin in the indoor primate area was repetitively pacing back and forth in its indoor enclosure, and twisting its neck in exactly the same spot each time. I returned 3 hours later to find, sadly, that the monkey was following exactly the same sequence. Having previously worked at a primate sanctuary, I am familiar with the behaviour of capuchin monkeys in captivity, and it was evident that this monkey was displaying stereotypic behaviour: repetitive, functionless behaviour that develops in some animals in captivity as a result of impoverished or frustrating environments that it may be experiencing or may have experienced in the past.

Capuchins are intelligent primates and it was distressing for me to see this particular individual displaying stereotypic behaviour. It is of course possible that this monkey developed this behaviour elsewhere before arriving at the zoo, but nevertheless it was still on display to the public without any explanation. How can this ever be justified as educational?

Unfortunately, the abnormal behaviour was not limited to the capuchin. I witnessed stereotypic behaviour in the giant anteater, a red-fronted macaw and several other animals.

What was particularly troubling was how visitors appeared to interpret the abnormal behaviours of the animals. For example, at the Asiatic lion enclosure, barriers had been put up with a note to explain that the lions needed privacy. Despite this, several people stood watching as the lions walked back and forth, continuously pacing; again, indicative of stereotypic behaviour. While I stood videoing the lions a young child of around 6 or 7 stood beside me and innocently asked her parent “why is the lion doing that?”. Desperately wanting to answer, I continued to film waiting to hear the response, hoping that the parent would explain that the animal is in fact showing a behaviour that is abnormal. Sadly, the child’s question went unanswered and I can only assume she went home none the wiser.

That one moment really brought home to me just how easy it is for zoos to avoid being truly educational. By presenting visitors with a fleeting encounter with animals in an unnatural environment, how easy it is to overlook the problems of life in captivity. And what little hope there is of inspiring future generations to actively contribute to wildlife conservation, if we must rely on education in zoos. I can honestly say that I have learnt so much more from wildlife documentaries than I ever will at a zoo. While it is so tragic to know that the child never got the correct answer for why the lion was pacing, it is even more tragic to think that a single visit may be the only time that child comes close to seeing an Asiatic lion. It begs the question as to why the animal is there in the first place. Is it a true representation of how lions live naturally in India’s Gir Forest? Not by a long shot, in my opinion. Will the lions currently at Edinburgh Zoo ever be reintroduced back in to the wild where they belong? I am very doubtful.

After my visit, I shared some of the footage on my personal social media account. As usual, the videos received quite a lot of attention with many people commenting on how they have witnessed similar behaviour during their trips to zoos and how it has put them off visiting again. However, I was surprised to receive a comment from someone who works as a zookeeper, saying that the video was a “misrepresentation” of how the lions live at the zoo.
Now, if my video, simply recording what the animals at the zoo were doing on the day of my visit, was a “misrepresentation”, surely the biggest misrepresentation of all is keeping these animals in captivity in a zoo in Scotland, in enclosures that bear little resemblance in terms of space and complexity to their natural habitat – in the name of education?

It is all too easy to forget that we are looking at living, sentient animals in zoos, and it is not good enough to simply accept claims that zoos are educational and necessary for conservation, especially when there are questions about the welfare of these animals.

The downside, it seems to me, far outweigh the meagre ‘benefits’ on offer to either animals or people.

Katie Richards
Zoo Check Officer
Born Free Foundation