Archive for August, 2017

The rarest (and prettiest) wild relative of man’s best friend!

Saturday, August 26th, 2017

Addis Ababa, 26 August 2017

In contrast to other canids, Ethiopian wolves are highly specialised to life on the roof of Africa. Only a handful of mountain enclaves now harbour the right conditions to support viable populations of Ethiopian wolves. They are Africa’s rarest, and most threatened carnivore, and most of their populations are tiny. A mere 450 wolves, to nearly one billion dogs worldwide!

Ethiopia is the cradle of humanity, and farming has been modifying its surface for millennia. The need for arable land brings about an incessant pressure on natural habitats. Barley crops and potato fields are slowly encroaching the last relicts of Afroalpine diversity, and the wolves and other endemics wildlife such as the walia ibex, the mountain nyala, the wattle crane, down to the giant molerat, are seeing their habitat shrink and bringing local extinction a step closer.

By and large people in the Ethiopian highlands are relatively tolerant of wildlife, but their priority is one of survival. Unless their livelihoods can be brought into line with sustainable practices, the meadows and moors they need to graze their stock, gather firewood and tend their crops will soon be all degraded to bare rock. And while many highland wildlife can coexist with shepherds and their livestock, free-ranging dogs bring in an additional challenge, posing the most real and immediate threat to the wolves. Coming from many surrounding villages and towns dogs not only compete for food and chase wolves. They are inexorably drawn to each other and interact, inevitably transmitting rabies and distemper to their wild cousins, and even hybridising.

Disease ultimately determines the dynamics of the last remaining wolf havens, with three out of four wolves typically dying in populations hit by outbreaks, their numbers a rollercoaster. The Bale Mountains plateaux harbour the largest number of wolves; in the last three years they have endured back-to-back rabies and distemper outbreaks. Smaller populations are at even greater risk; last year disease decimated the smallest wolf population.

In a way these wolves are victims of their own success as Afroalpine specialists. But because of the warming continent, and the pressure of humans, livestock and dogs, now they are restricted to tiny mountain pockets and pushed ever up the slopes. There are reasons to be optimistic about their future though.

In 1995 Born Free Foundation helped me to establish the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme. With their help we have since vaccinated in excess of 80,000 dogs to prevent rabies getting across to wolves. And when the deadly virus strikes, swift wolf vaccinations have taken place. In a shift from reactive vaccination to a preventive approach an oral vaccine has been trialled that will offer protection from future rabies epizootics. These vaccination campaigns not only protect the wolves, but also the dogs and their owners, saving lives and preventing financial loss.

There are signs that the wolves in the Bale Mountains are bouncing back. By the end of January, nearly all packs monitored (and recently vaccinated) had bred successfully and some of the larger packs had split, increasing the number of breeding families. With as many as seven pups born to a dominant female, the potential for numeric recovery is high, with over 80 pups located in the Bale Mountains alone.

Rare, ecological specialists such as these wolves will continue to be threatened and require intervention to secure their survival. Climate shifts in mountain ranges tend to impact on specialists, and there are few mitigation approaches available to protect small populations that get caught in this habitat vortex. So we can expect local extinctions for several montane specialists, although for the wolves a metapopulation management paradigm will become part of the solution, with conservation translocations enabling recovery and genetic flux. We expect to see more of these interventions in the next decade.

The Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme, and its Ethiopian partners, with the amazing support of the Born Free Foundation, continue to put all their strength to fight the threats through awareness, education, and science-led approaches to managing disease.  It is a long-term game, and only through committed efforts and dedication the necessary trust and common ground between the needs of people and wildlife can be found.

If you are a dog lover help us protect their rarest wild cousin from disease and habitat loss, by making a donation to the Born Free Foundation. Thank you!

Prof Claudio Sillero

Born Free’s Head of Conservation and EWCP Founder & Director

(Images © Eric Bedin)

Tribute to George Adamson

Sunday, August 20th, 2017

It is the 28th Anniversary of the murder of George Adamson, a man who was an inspiration to my husband Bill Travers, and myself: to Bill until his life’s end and, to me, until the end of mine.  It is perhaps unusual for a husband and wife to share such admiration, loyalty and love for the same person, but this was the case for us.  From the moment we first met him in June 1964.

I am not suggesting that others didn’t share these feelings as the opposite is true.  He was loved and admired by thousands of people all over the world; people who met him, stayed in his simple little camp in Kora, Kenya, and people who had never met him but had heard of him or read his books.  Or, possibly, seen him in the documentary films Bill made including ‘The Lions are Free’, and ‘Christian, the Lion at World’s End’.

I think it would be true to say that the lions that George knew, cared for and often returned to the wild, were the real loves of his life.  His camps were  first in Meru, with three of the lions we managed to save, after filming ‘Born Free’, from being sent to zoos and safari parks, and then in Kora with many others who came from various backgrounds – including the famous Christian.  He was here for 20 years – sharing it for the last years of his life with his brother Terence, who died in 1986.

Who, one asks, would want to kill a man who was one of the most kind and loyal people one could ever meet?  Obviously it had to be someone that didn’t know him.  And so it was.  People who resented the presence of George and his lions in Kora, which they coveted for grazing their cattle and access to the river.

But, as often happens, a person can die but their life, beliefs and humanity towards all forms of life will never be destroyed.

I have several pictures of George in my home, but I don’t need to look at them to see him.  His philosophy, modesty, kindness and love for animals are present in my mind each day.  I know that without him the film ‘Born Free’ could never have been made in the same way.  In his truly humble and self-effacing way he will always be ‘Lord of the Lions’.


Elephants need protecting. Lifting the ivory ban is no solution

Saturday, August 19th, 2017

We’re told we are in the ‘anthropocene’ era, the era of human domination. One of the features of this era is the so-called ‘sixth extinction’.

In plain language, many of the world’s species are disappearing as a result of human activities. The current rate of species extinction may be 1,000 times higher than what might be expected without human influence.

Our demand for wildlife products is a significant factor in the decline of many species. Yet in spite of overwhelming evidence of its damaging impacts, some countries continue to promote trade in products from endangered species as some kind of solution to the crisis. They are wrong to do so.

African elephants feature among the species in serious decline, and have been held up by many as a ‘poster species’ to highlight our increasingly destructive impact on the planet. Our largest surviving terrestrial mammals are highly intelligent and intensely social, immensely strong yet capable of great sensitivity. They have a reputation for having long memories, and they mourn their deceased relatives and sometimes even people who have been kind to them. They are the gardeners of the forests and savannahs in which they live, creating and renewing the landscape to the benefit of multitudes of other species.

Yet Africa’s elephants are disappearing fast.

The statistics are devastating. Less than half a million African elephants remain compared with perhaps five million just a century ago. The loss of habitat and migratory routes through encroachment of expanding human populations into wildlife areas, has had a big impact, as has the human-elephant conflict that inevitably results. But the major driver of recent decline has been the industrial-scale massacre of elephants to supply ivory into trade.

In excess of 150,000 African elephants have been slaughtered by poachers since 2012. At least 20,000 continue brutally killed each year. Every one of these was a family member. Every one played its part in elephant society and the wider ecology. The loss of every one is irreplaceable.

International trade in ‘new’ ivory was effectively banned in 1989 when African elephants were listed on Appendix I of the United Nations’ Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). However, trade in ivory within many countries remains legal, and international trade in raw and worked ivory items, both legal and illegal, has continued to flourish, stimulating demand and incentivising the poachers and traffickers.

In response, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) passed a Resolution in 2016 urging countries to close their domestic ivory markets, and CITES followed suit. The USA, formerly a major market for ivory, implemented a ‘near total ban’ last year. China announced it would do the same and has already begun closing ivory carving factories and retail outlets, a process that should be completed by the end of 2017. Many African countries already operate domestic bans. These combined actions, alongside demand reduction efforts in key markets, appear to be having some impact, with prices for raw ivory reported to be falling fast.

Yet some still seem to think that we can trade our way out of this crisis, and continue to call for the international ban on ivory to be overturned.

In August 2017, Zimbabwe’s Environment Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri was quoted as saying that Zimbabwe would be putting up a “strong fight” to lift the international ivory trade ban, with the claimed support of several other African countries including South Africa, Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania.

Zimbabwe  and other southern African countries have long been advocates of treating wild animals and products obtained from them as commercial commodities, only seeing their value in monetary terms. Reports suggest that Zimbabwe is sitting on perhaps 100 tonnes of stockpiled ivory, which it is desperate to monetise with seemingly little consideration for the potential consequences. The timing of this latest effort is far from coincidental, with a 9-year ‘moratorium’ on efforts to get CITES to allow international ivory trade coming to an end, and an important CITES meeting coming up in November 2017.

However, any effort to reverse the international trade ban would be disastrous. It would send a mixed message to governments, consumers and traders at a time when the international community is coming together to shut the trade down. It would undermine years of field conservation initiatives by countless individuals working across elephants’ range, and education efforts aimed at informing the public of the horrific nature of the ivory trade and reducing consumer demand for ivory. It would provide a mechanism by which poachers and traffickers could launder their illegally-obtained blood-ivory into markets.

The last ‘one-off’ ivory sale agreed by CITES took place in 2008, and included ivory from Zimbabwe. Counter to claims made at the time, elephants did not benefit from these auctions; rather the sales resulted in parallel legal and illegal ivory markets which have proved impossible to control. Unprecedented levels of elephant poaching followed. The consequences for elephants across much of Africa have been disastrous.

And Zimbabwe is hardly in a position to claim that it could effectively control and manage a legal trade mechanism, given its poor rating on crime and corruption indices. The chances of any proceeds from future ivory sales resulting in a significant net benefit to  Zimbabwe’s conservation programmes or local communities in Zimbabwe are dismally slim.

The global community is finally waking up to the value of elephants, the devastating impact of ivory trade, and the need to shut down demand for and trade in ivory from all sources in all markets, if the scourge of poaching is to be addressed. We may already be seeing the benefits of these actions.

Now is a time for the international community to hold firm, not to bow to those whose interest is merely financial.

Dr Mark Jones, Associate Director MEAs and UK Wildlife

World Elephant Day

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

So often in life an individual can highlight a cause, be a positive or negative symbol of an issue affecting thousands of others.  Through that one person or, in this particular case, one animal, we can learn about and identify with their joy or suffering.  It is a powerful and unforgettable experience.

Today is the 34th anniversary of the death of Pole Pole, an elephant my husband Bill and I knew well.  Some people know the story but, for those who don’t, I will just tell you a little about her life which led to her premature death.  It was 1968, and Bill and I were making a film in Kenya – ‘An Elephant Called Slowly’.  We filmed in Tsavo National Park in Kenya where David Sheldrick was Senior Warden, and where his wife Daphne had begun her renowned work with orphaned elephants.

At that time she had two teenage elephants, but we needed a little one for our story and David mentioned he knew of one in a trapper’s yard in Nairobi.  She was a terrified and traumatised little two year old, having been taken from her family in the wild. But within two days David had calmed her.  Without doubt she was the ‘star’ of the film and we loved her beyond words.

Filming over, we asked if we could buy her and give her to Daphne.  This was agreed – but.   The ‘but’ was horrifying.  It was possible only if the authorities caught another elephant in her place – as the Government of that time had promised to give a little one to London Zoo.  Another family distraught, another little elephant doomed for a life in captivity, in a strange land amongst strangers?  It was impossible.

Pole Pole was in London Zoo until her untimely end.  It was tragic to see her there.  The moment Bill and I visited her in 1982 – following a letter from Daphne that alerted us to a potential problem – is engraved on my memory forever.

She was a poor-looking thing, dry skin, only one partially broken tusk – and alone.  We couldn’t believe it was the same animal.  She was slowly pacing up and down the compound, a few visitors looked on.  Then we called her, ‘Pole Pole’.  She stopped, came towards us and put out her trunk to touch our hands.  Even now I can hardly bear to think of it.

We tried to help her, and found a Reserve in South Africa who would give her a home and an experienced ‘elephant person’ to go with her.  To no avail.  However, the zoo said they would move her to Whipsnade, where there were other elephants.

The day for the move arrived.  A travelling crate had been in place for several days and, apparently, she went calmly into it.  Unfortunately she was kept standing in it for so long she collapsed and later, having had a damaged leg which was examined under anaesthetic, she was ‘put down’. I was told that she had lost the will to live.

Pole Pole’s story tells us everything that’s wrong with keeping elephants in zoos.  They are social, family animals and should never be alone.  Unfortunately we know that, just in Europe, there are at least 40 elephants who exist in this way.  Elephants can walk up to 80 km in a day choosing their food, exploring different paths, planting the forests of the future with the seeds in their dung.  They are creatures with a purpose.

And, of course, in mentioning the way we control and dominate these wise and wonderful animals, I must not forget what they experience when they are in the circus.  Not only is their confinement even more severe, but they are made to perform inane tricks under the lights of ‘The Big Top’, on command.  It would drive any creature mad.

My plea to all those who still keep elephants in zoos and circuses is to show some respect and humanity towards them.  Help end the horrific ‘trade’ in elephants, whereby they are captured from the wild and sent to zoos – often in the Far East.  Not all survive.

End the fearful ivory trade.

End the breeding of elephants in captivity – show some compassion and respect for this most sensitive and wisest of creatures.

What a legacy Pole Pole will have left, if all I hope for comes true. World Elephant Day will have a new meaning.


Shocking Trophy Hunting Channel Launched

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

Just a week or so after the shocking news story about Xanda, (a male lion with dependent cubs)and one of Cecil the lion’s adult sons, being shot as a trophy in Zimbabwe, it seems the whole issue of trophy hunting is firmly back on the international radar with news of the launch of a new Sport Hunting Channel.

Here’s my reaction:

“It won’t only be Arsenal supporters (like me) who will be outraged by My Outdoor TV (MOTV), launched recently in the UK by billionaire Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke.

Anyone who has a beating heart will be sickened by images of grown men and women celebrating the killing of wild lions and other iconic species for ‘fun’.

Let’s be clear:

Trophy hunting isn’t poaching – the illegal killing of animals, such as elephants for their ivory.

Trophy hunting isn’t subsistence hunting by people surviving from day to day on the animals they hunt to food.

Trophy hunting isn’t even the hunting of animals to control their populations, such as deer in many European countries, where natural predators have long been eradicated.

Whatever trophy hunters may say – that it’s about being in the great outdoors; that these are problem animals that need controlling; that it’s all about the hunt, not the actual killing – trophy hunters do exactly what it says on the tin. They hunt for trophies so they can put the head of their victim on the wall and brag about their bravery to their buddies – as if killing a wild animal with a high-powered rifle or bow from a hundred feet away or more was some kind of badge of courage!

‘All dangerous game safaris are exciting and challenging hunts and yes, a thrill of a lifetime!’ That’s what it is really all about for trophy hunters.

Football is called ‘the beautiful game’ but, Mr Kroenke, one of its wealthiest supporters, may be contributing to the end of our beautiful ‘game’ – the wild animals that still cling to existence across an increasingly human-dominated world.

And now, Mr Kroenke’s trophy hunting channel will  permit some people to share the ‘thrill of a lifetime’ by watching others kill for ‘fun’.  It is the equivalent of a legal ‘snuff movie’. I say enough is enough. We can and must protect wildlife and wild places without killing and it’s time for the majority to speak out. Born Free has been, and always will be, against trophy hunting, and for Compassionate Conservation. Join us.”

Will Travers OBE

President The Born Free Foundation

Please note: this blog has been superseded by the latest news on Friday, 4th August here.