Archive for November, 2017

The timeless love we have for dolphins

Sunday, November 19th, 2017

Born Free’s Captivity Officer Samantha Goddard reflects on the deep-rooted affection we have here in the UK for what could be the most loved species on the planet, the dolphin.

Faced with the prospect of an end to the keeping of dolphins in captivity in the UK in 1986, the then Director of London Zoo made the bold claim that if the UK lost its dolphinaria, then people would lose interest in dolphins.

I am pleased to say that today there are no captive dolphins in the UK.  The last remaining captive facilities in Brighton and Morecombe Marineland closed in 1991, following a campaign called ‘Into the Blue’, coordinated by animal welfare organisations including Born Free. But what of the claim that people would lose interest in dolphins? Have people in the UK stopped caring about these wonderful animals since the tanks were closed?

It seems clear that public concern for dolphins had, and still has, a very large part to play in making and keeping the UK dolphinaria-free. While you may no longer see people protesting outside dolphinaria in Britain, hundreds of people from across the country gather in London each year to protest the brutal capture of dolphins from the wild in Taiji in Japan. Their calls to keep these animals in the wild can surely be attributed not to the presence of dolphinaria in the UK, but their absence; perfectly illustrating that the captivity of whales and dolphins is not required to inspire passion for these animals. In fact, in 2014 a public opinion poll showed that 86% of the 2,050 British people questioned said that they would not want to visit dolphinaria during their holidays

In 2016, the charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) was ranked as one of Britain’s top 1,000 charities based on its voluntary public donations, which for last year were almost £3 million; there are many people in the UK donating specifically to help dolphins in captivity and in the wild.

TV documentaries about marine animals including dolphins reach record viewing figures: Dolphins- Spy in the Pod (2014), reached 5.3 million viewers for the first episode alone. The first series of Blue Planet, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, first aired in 2001 and drew in 12 million viewers, making £20 million in DVD sales. The second series, Blue Planet II, aired this year and has been the most watched programme of 2017 so far.

These statistics arguably demonstrate that people in the UK have as much, if not more, of an interest and passion for dolphins and marine wildlife today than when they were kept in tanks across the country.

Around the world, many people have an affinity with dolphins: some will be happy to see them in captivity, while others would not dream of doing so. So what is the difference between these two groups of people? I think it is very little, and the fact that some people remain keen to see dolphins and whales in captivity shows that the truth about the suffering of animals in captivity has just not yet spread far enough.  Born Free is working to educate people about animal suffering and exploitation so they can then make their own informed decisions.

There are now so many ways to ‘see’ these amazing animals without captivity, including the immersive TV documentaries mentioned above. With the use of the latest technologies, these allow us to see all kinds of marine animals up close and personal in their natural environments undertaking their natural behaviours, and this is exactly what ground-breaking TV series, such as Blue Planet allow us to do from the comfort of our own front rooms.  We can see things such as dolphins swimming alongside false killer whales in New Zealand, and a pod of orca hunting for herring in Norway.

On the subject of orca, we are delighted to have seen a 24% increase in adoption figures for “our” orca, Springer, over the last 2 years.  We believe this is due, in part, to our #TankFree campaign; the key message from which is that we can and must do much better for whales and dolphins than to keep them in barren tanks.

I am very happy that the only way to see whales and dolphins around the UK today is in the wild. Since the captive industry closed here in the 1990s, it is simply not true that interest  in dolphins has been lost; if anything people are more interested in them, to the point of wanting to end the keeping of whales and dolphins in tanks altogether around the world.  If you share this conviction, why not visit our webpage to find out more about our #TankFree campaign and our adoption for Springer the orca?

TROPHY – A New Wildlife Shockumentary. Look Away Now

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

Trophy, a new feature length wildlife ‘shockumentary’ by Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau, is a film of two storylines.

The first focusses on trophy hunting in Africa and follows a man with a weak grasp on reality, Philip Glass, on his quest to shoot the Big Five (rhino, elephant, lion, leopard and buffalo). Philip is hell-bent on his mission and will go to extraordinary lengths to succeed, including shooting 17 wild animals as ‘bait’ to lure a magnificent lion to within yards of his high-powered rifle.

Weeping over its corpse, Mr Glass seeks absolution and approval from the spirit of his dead father – a challenging man by his own admission.

He also lays it on the line by stating that anyone who believes in evolution is a fool, and that (gun by his side) ‘no bureaucrat is going to take away his trophy’.

The film is peppered with assumptions and assertions about trophy hunting that are offered in an almost ‘fact-free’ environment. We are told (by a representative of America’s premier hunting organisation, Safari Club International) that “all the money (from trophy hunting) will go back into conservation” with no evidence to back it up. Also that belief in the medical value of rhino horn “has been around for millions of years”. Neither is true.

Trophy hunting, as portrayed in the film, will do little to foster informed debate but those who admire the killing of wild animals for ‘fun’ will probably support it, the many implacably opposed (like me) will reject it, and people who may have their doubts will most likely be disgusted by the brutal eye-witness shooting of an elephant, a hippo, numerous antelope, a lion and, perhaps most distressingly of all, a crocodile, trapped in a pond and blown away by a beer-swilling, foul-mouthed lout, egged on by his ‘I want crocodile skin shoes and a belt’ partner.

My conclusion: Trophy Hunting is controversial, sickening and offensive to anyone with a heart.

The second aspect of the film was downright dangerous. It presented with almost no counter-argument, the conservation ‘recipe’ of South African, John Hume, the most successful private rhino breeder on the planet, with 1530 rhino to his name.

Mr Hume’s recipe is to breed rhino, cut off their horns and sell them – currently legal in South Africa but prohibited internationally. It is put forward by the film’s makers with almost no risk analysis, no alternative vision and no understanding of what would happen to the world’s 30,000 remaining wild rhino if his dream came true.

It is a recipe for disaster, cooked up by some well-known pseudo-economists in South Africa who have, it seems, little or no understanding of economics and what will happen if you create a legal market for rhino horn and peddle it to hundreds of millions of potential customers in the Far East.

They and Mr Hume seem oblivious to the lessons of history. In 2008 the international community, despite the desperate pleas of Born Free and others, approved a ‘one-off’ sale of more than 100 tonnes of ivory from South Africa and several other countries to Japan and China. Far from ‘satisfying consumer demand’, as the architects of this sale hoped, it fueled a dramatic and deadly explosion in poaching and illegal ivory trade. Between 2009 and 2014, Tanzania, an African elephant stronghold, lost an average of 1,000 elephants a month, every month, for five years. That’s 60,000 Elephants.

The poaching epidemic continues to this day with 20,000 Elephants poached each year, tons of ivory being seized, and wildlife rangers and wardens – the elephants’ first line of defense – losing their lives. More than 1,000 have been murdered in the last 10 years.

And yet, Mr Hume is convinced and, in the absence of proper analysis and a counter-perspective, convincing. He’s just an old guy who wants to save his rhino right? Wrong!

So where does that leave us?

With a film called Trophy that can’t make up its mind whether it’s about trophy hunting or rhino horn trade.

With a film that has ambitions to be the next Blackfish – it is not.

With a film that seeks to stimulate debate by both sides – it can’t (because grown-up debate requires facts).

With a film that says it wants to bring people together to find solutions – it doesn’t.

Trophy is, in my view, opinionated, dangerous, difficult and naive.

Those who have helped fund its making, including the BBC, need to look carefully at their own internal rules. The viewing public should treat it as a toxic substance. It is not informative. It is not balanced. And it should not be relied upon.

As for Mr Schwarz and Ms Clusiau, the old adage appears to ring true. ‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing’. Trophy, for all the hype, has done little to make things any clearer. They ask members of the public to join the conversation but then shut down real debate. Schwarz openly admits that he supports Mr Hume’s ‘recipe’.

I believe this film will be used by the South African government to push for legalization of rhino horn trade at CITES, the global wildlife trade conference to be held in Sri Lanka in 2019. If that proposal is approved then I predict an apocalyptic future for rhino and poaching rates we can only imagine.

Maybe wild rhino will soon be gone. Maybe the only survivors will belong to Mr Hume. If so, Trophy will be partly to blame.

Will Travers
President Born Free Foundation.

Howard Jones, CEO Born Free Foundation, added:

“I have serious concerns as to the motives of this film.  One could take the view that the confused narrative, absence of facts, unchallenged dogma, forgotten threads, add up merely to bad film-making.  But the stakes are too high for that – the aggression and motivation of the director too stark; Mr Schwarz knows what he is doing.

This mis-named film is actually about Mr Hume and a business into which he has sunk over £50m.  It is about messing with resource-economics, unmeasurable demand and intended consequences.  A number of people stand to get very rich indeed, if this film is allowed to slip by whilst we all miss the true purpose – duped into thinking that it is all about weird American hunters and Southern African thugs.  We cannot let that happen – we must call it out for what it is.”