Archive for the ‘Adam Roberts’ Category

The Best Place for a Sumatran Tiger

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

Guest blog from Born Free USA:

The best place for a Sumatran tiger is in Sumatra—not the Sacramento Zoo. Yet, it’s now reported that a 15-year-old Sumatran tiger died after being attacked by another captive tiger there. These tigers were forced together in unnatural confinement, devoid of all that they need innately, biologically, physically, and environmentally… all in an effort at forced breeding. The male became aggressive and killed the female.

This is, of course, shocking; it is, of course, sad; but, most importantly, perhaps, it is, of course, totally predictable and preventable. I feel as though I’ve said it so many times before, and I wonder how many more times I’ll have to say it again… Wild tigers belong in the wild. Their welfare is compromised in captivity, and there is zero conservation benefit to keeping them or even breeding them in captivity.

Should these tigers have bred successfully, they would not see their offspring shipped to the wild in Asia to repopulate forested areas of that tiger-depleted continent. They would have languished in the Sacramento Zoo in perpetuity (unless they were shipped to some other zoo instead). TV news reports note that the female, now deceased, had been at the zoo since 2002 and had five offspring. When I heard this, my mind immediately turned to thoughts of horrific puppy mills throughout the United States, where poor dogs are kept confined in cages, forcibly bred to supply the pet trade. We rarely think of wild animals in zoos this way, and I know I never have before, but that’s what it seems like here. This majestic, highly endangered animal, living in captivity for 15 years, forced to breed, with no chance of freedom. How pathetic.

The other thing I often find myself saying is that I get very annoyed when those of us in animal protection are referred to as Chicken Little or “joy-killers” trying to take away people’s fun through our animal advocacy positions. But, then again, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that keeping wild animals in captivity is potentially dangerous. In 2003, a different Sumatran tiger at the Sacramento Zoo attacked a zookeeper, and in 2005, a male lion at the Sacramento Zoo killed a female lion. So, while some might attempt to self-servingly present this new tiger death as a freak occurrence, history suggests otherwise.

What wild tigers need simply cannot be provided in a zoo. What wild tigers need is to be safe and protected in the wild. We mustn’t compromise their individual welfare, ever. They deserve better than that. And, we surely mustn’t treat them as breeding machines to supply new animals for captive display throughout the country. I don’t appreciate people who breed cats or dogs to sell commercially in pet stores in America because I know such intensive breeding creates sick animals and the unfortunate euthanasia of others for whom loving homes are not available. Similarly, I can’t support intensive commercial breeding of tigers for public display: not when the animals suffer, not when there’s no conservation benefit, and not when the tigers of Sumatra are critically endangered, numbering around 500—and potentially disappearing forever.

Keep Wildlife in the Wild,

Adam Roberts
CEO Born Free USA and Born Free Foundation

The dangerous reality of wild animal “actors” laid bare by trainer

Monday, November 9th, 2015

Guest blog from Born Free CEO Adam Roberts.

“Penned by a journalist as part of the UK Newspaper, The Guardian’s, “Action and Adventure Film” section, an article published in the last few days highlighted the career of former US-based entrepreneur, Randy Miller, who now makes a living out of using live wild animals in “attack scenes” in major Hollywood productions. Written in such a manner so as Mr Miller is presented as something of a charismatic daredevil, the article highlights how he began collecting wild animals, such as big cats, in the days when his business was flourishing. When he was later declared bankrupt in the mid-nineties, he established a company that hired out the animals for use in films.

Miller recounts the time he “took a bite from a tiger for Russell Crowe” during filming for ‘Gladiator’ and was viciously attacked by a bear during filming for ‘Semi-Pro’ in 2008, when he stood in for actor, Will Ferrell. Miller survived these attacks. The article recounts the tragic story of his cousin, Stevie, who was killed by one of Miller’s bears as he attempted to film a TV commercial with the wild animal. The article suggests, in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner “this seems like madness” but goes on to conclude “it’s clear how much he loves his animals and lives for them”.

What is particularly interesting about the piece is that Miller appears to relish the danger of the role and so, unlike many other animal trainers who work with wild animals and insist that the practice is completely safe, Miller lays bare the reality; these remain dangerous wild animals who can injure and kill at will. This begs the question: why on earth is this practice still permitted around the world?

While there were always be people who want the supposed thrill and excitement of “wrangling” a wild animal, when things go wrong, both people and animals pay. Had the tiger who (predictably) attacked Miller during the scene for Gladiator continued to attack, in all likelihood he (and potentially Miller, too) would have lost his life. If the bear had not loosed his grip, he too would have been stopped by potentially lethal force. Miller’s cousin paid with his life for the desire to have a bear in his company’s advert. If the people, both those working with animals and in the companies employing them, refuse to heed the very clear warning signs, then does it not stand to reason that the decision be taken out of their hands and this use of animals be prohibited? No film, television advert or programme is worth losing a life over; animal or human.

And this is in addition to the wider animal welfare concerns surrounding the use of these animals in this way. A lifetime of captivity, separated from their families usually before weaning, transported from place to place and subjected to the chaos of a film set; these animals simply deserve better.

Miller admits in the piece that work is becoming scarce as more companies wisely turn to computer generated imagery (CGI) to create lifelike animals to great effect; just look at the Planet of the Apes films or the recent epic “Noah” for examples of animal-free productions. But can we really stand by and simply wait for this outdated, dangerous and cruel industry to die a natural death? I believe not. It is time that wild animals were recognised and respected for what they are. It is time we got them out of the studios and film sets and it is time that we stop celebrating the people who continue to exploit them. It is not brave to wrestle a wild animal. It is, at best, extremely ill-advised and, at worst, a very dangerous form of animal exploitation.

You can help to bring an end to the use of wild animals in entertainment by contacting Born Free if you see a production that uses live wild animals so that we can reach out to the production companies and urge compassionate change. You can also choose to avoid films and other productions which exploit animals in this way. If you work in the media industry then you can ensure that you only work on productions which commit to a “no wild animals” policy. Together we can help to bring the exploitation of wild animal “actors” to an end.


On Cecil: The African Lion is Endangered. What is the Government Waiting For?

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

Guest Blog from Adam Roberts CEO Born Free

The very symbol of wild Africa is under threat. Lions are in the firing line. This week’s powerful Guest Blog is from my friend and colleague, Adam Roberts, CEO of Born Free. This really nails it!

Blogging off, Will

2nd August 2015

‘I don’t recall the last time I saw/read/heard such global outrage at the killing of one animal. I’ll take it. We need all the help we can get calling attention to the plight of wildlife across the globe.

The killing of Cecil, a proud lion of Zimbabwe, is a tragedy. A pathetic, selfish killer stalked him (with paid help), allegedly lured him from a protected area (as though geography would have stopped the slaughter), and shot him with the arrow of a crossbow (shot, not killed, because this hunter, while called a crack shot, couldn’t even kill a lion who neither feared nor threatened humans)—and Cecil suffered for 40 hours before a rifle bullet took him from this world. Massive anger at this atrocity is well-founded.

But, let’s please all be very clear; there is a scenario in which no one is talking about the killing of Cecil. In March 2011, Born Free USA and others petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the African lion as “endangered” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. If approved, lion “trophies” could only be imported into America with a special permit that would be granted if the applicant could prove that killing that lion would enhance the survival of the species. (It happens, but it is not standard.)

For four years, we’ve waited. Well, what is the government waiting for?

The African lion is estimated to live on a fragmented 8% of its historic habitat across Africa. The African lion is estimated to have suffered population decline of more than 50% since 1980, falling from some 75,000 animals to somewhere around 30,000. Is this not an animal in danger? The African lion could go extinct in my lifetime.

The African lion is endangered. What is the government waiting for?

The African lion has not only lost its habitat, but as it loses habitat, it loses access to prey and is forced to feed on livestock. This results in retaliatory killing by livestock owners by the spear and by horrific poisoning. The African lion succumbs to disease. The African lion is killed in countries like Nigeria for its organs, fat, tissue, blood, and its body parts to be used in traditional medicines. And, hundreds of African lions are killed every single year by trophy hunters—more than half of whom, I’m ashamed to say, come from America.

The African lion is under perpetual assault throughout its range. What is the government waiting for?

What makes me angriest is that we know this happens. We said it. We shouted it from the rooftops. Lions are endangered; they need help!

So, what’s the problem? Do loss of habitat, serious population declines, and massive threats not support providing this incredibly beleaguered species protection?

Ah, there are other stakeholders’ opinions to consider… The Safari Club, the National Rifle Association (NRA), and the “wise users,” all of whom think wild animals should pay their way; who think they are the true conservationists; who have all the answers; who once called me a Banana Republic conservationist because I go on humane, non-consumptive wildlife safaris, devoid of their wasteful thrill-killing.

I have written this line so many times… We, in the animal protection movement, are so often called “chicken little”: running around, crying that the sky is falling, every time we want to protect animals from cruelty, suffering, abuse, threats, and extinction.

Well, the time for change is now: in the name of Cecil and every other animal subject to cruel, unjustifiable exploitation.

Give animals and their advocates the benefit of the doubt. Stop waiting. Stop this insane allegiance and deference to the hunters of the world. Stop calling us emotional and unscientific.

Had the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the African lion as “endangered” three, even two, years ago, perhaps Cecil wouldn’t have suffered and died. Perhaps the lion would have been protected from the American wealthy hunting elite and they would have had to spend their money and satisfy their blood lust in some other way.

It’s time for change. It’s time to stop making us wait. When we scream from the rooftops that lions are endangered, that the ivory trade is out of control, that rhinos are being poached to extinction, that pangolins are being traded to death, that furbearers are suffering miserably in steel jaw traps, that elephants don’t belong in zoos and orcas don’t belong in cement tanks, that primates don’t make good pets, and that people shouldn’t have the opportunity to pet a tiger for a photo… Maybe, just maybe, U.S. government decision-makers should listen to our voices over the self-interested, self-justifying wildlife traders, or the hunting and captivity and pet and trapping industry apologists.

More than 500 Cecils are inexplicably slaughtered every year… for fun.

This isn’t an “I told you so” blog. I don’t want to be right; I want to get it right. And, until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acts to protect the lion… Well, they’ve got it wrong.

Cecil didn’t have to die. Will we act before it happens again?

Keep Wildlife in the Wild,


Ivory Crush in Times Square

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

Guest Blog from Adam Roberts CEO Born Free USA

I grew up in New York City and can attest to its vibrant and exciting atmosphere. But, never in my wildest dreams as a kid did I imagine being present while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service poured a ton of confiscated elephant ivory into a rock crusher in the middle of Times Square in its second significant public demonstration against the international ivory trade.

Today’s crush follows not long after the recent one in Denver, Colorado, where some 6.5 tons were pulverized in the same manner. Any destruction of seized wildlife contraband—whether here, or in Africa, or Asia, or Europe—should serve as a powerful reminder that only elephants should wear ivory and that there’s no room in the world for commercialization of these wildlife products.

In some respects, today’s crush was awesome. It was awe-inspiring to see so many people come together for this single message of wildlife conservation. But, I was also awestruck at each piece of ivory loaded on the conveyor belt for its final demise. Each of those pieces represented a strong bull elephant roaming alone in the savannah of Africa. It represented mothers, grandmothers, daughters, granddaughters, aunts, and cousins, all living together in their matriarchal society for decade after decade. Each of those pieces represented the loss of one of those animal’s lives, unceremoniously, and for little more than commercial greed: the desire for an ivory bracelet, a piano key, or chopsticks.

While international trade in elephant ivory is undoubtedly despicable and Born Free is supportive of every attempt to raise awareness of these precious animals’ plight, we must remain equally aware of the other wild animals slaughtered where they live to supply this nefarious trade.

Black and white rhinos across Africa number fewer than 25,000. They are killed for their horns, used in folk remedies and false cures in countries like Vietnam.

Lions numbering perhaps 30,000 are slaughtered as trophies for their bones or their skins.

Tigers—fewer than 4,000 left in all of Asia—continue to be slaughtered in the wild in India, poached for their bones, teeth, skins, and internal organs, while wealthy businessmen in China continue to breed these majestic animals in the hopes of the international market for tiger parts opening again.

Today’s message is a sound one: no commercial trade in ivory; destroy all seized ivory and keep it out of the marketplace forever. But, the message must reverberate beyond New York City, beyond the United States, and beyond elephants. We must all come together—no matter what species we fight for or where we do the fighting—to keep wildlife in the wild.

Keep Wildlife in the Wild,


Our Responsibility to Chimpanzees Everywhere

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

More than a decade ago I helped craft legislation in the United States Congress to establish a mechanism to provide a federal ‘retirement’ program for chimpanzees no longer needed in biomedical research. We shepherded this bill through the legislative process, it was signed into law, and now, chimpanzees languishing in American research laboratories can have a peaceful home for the remainder of their natural lives.

The path of moving legislation such as this through Congress is torturous, with many considerations to be taken and amendments to be made along the way. One of the most vital decisions we had to take was this: when is an individual chimpanzee retirement-ready? There was no way to succeed if we suggested that a third party would make the determination. We had to leave it up to the individual researcher. When the protocol is complete and the work with that animal concluded, retire the chimpanzee forever. And researchers are doing this.

But not all facilities and the people who run them have this sense of duty. I was shocked to learn recently from Born Free Foundation’s programmes manager for field conservation projects, Dr. Liz Greengrass, that the New York Blood Center (NYBC) has effectively abandoned 66 chimpanzees in Liberia, literally leaving them to starve to death.

Dr. Greengrass told me she first heard about the Marshall Island chimpanzees while working in Liberia in 2009: I visited the abandoned Vilab II facility on the outskirts of Monrovia on the old Firestone rubber plantation. The chimpanzees had by then been retired onto five islands off the mainland and I remember passing the rows of rusted cage doors, eerily empty and overgrown with vegetation through lack of use. I knew that the islands – covered primarily in mangrove forest – were unsuitable chimpanzee habitat and that the animals were completely reliant on daily provisioning for food. Upgrading the islands into a proper sanctuary had been discussed but a dispute between the New York Blood Centre (NYBC) and the government of Liberia over unpaid royalties had to be resolved first and therefore any preliminary efforts had always stalled. My own visit amounted to nothing, although I ended up with a rescued chimpanzee in my own back yard.

Many of these chimpanzees had been caught as infants from the wild – a procedure that invariably leads to the death of many other individuals, as they try to defend their young.  In the 1990s about half of the 165 individuals died in the brutal civil war – either directly at the hands of militia groups or through starvation and dehydration.

Now, for those who have survived, the New York Blood Center appears to simply be walking away.

Born Free has joined a coalition spearheaded by our friends at The Humane Society of the United States urging international pressure on the NYBC to reinstate funding and discuss a long-term solution with animal protection and chimpanzee experts. A public fundraising appeal to help care for these chimpanzees in the long-term has raised nearly $90,000 USD in just one week and an online petition has over 80,000 signatures. Of course raising funds is just part of the solution but it is a start.

While it is clear that negotiations with the government of Liberia have irrevocably broken down, we expect more from a company with hundreds of millions of dollars of assets and major corporate partners and that is why the NYBC cannot be allowed to dump a ‘problem’ such as the long-term care of chimpanzees. It is clear from the outpouring of support that the public agrees.

Dr. Greengrass added: I have been privileged to study chimpanzees in the wild and to work towards protecting their habitat. What I have concluded is that chimpanzees –adept climbers with super-human strength – are superbly adapted to their environment. The lion was never the king of the jungle; the egotistical chimpanzee – often banding together like a gang of marauding thugs – rules, but robbed of their natural world and the contrast couldn’t be more marked. In our world, they are unable to contribute to the health of the forest or to their own society. They become strangely redundant, chained by the neck to that tree. We are easily flattered by the way they emanate us, so we dress them up and make them perform and laugh at the results. And after we’ve tired of laughing and the novelty’s worn off, they evolve into a problem we whimsically wish would go away.

In this case, the problem does not simply go away – there is a human responsibility to fix it. The New York Blood Center has a responsibility to these chimpanzees and we will do all we can to hold them to account.

Keep Wildlife in the Wild,


What do Zoos do for Conservation?

Friday, May 8th, 2015

A guest Blog from Born Free Foundation and Born Free USA CEO Adam M Roberts.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was established to conserve the world’s biological resources and is supported by 194 States who have signed a legally-binding treaty. The CBD introduced the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, made up of 20 “Aichi Biodiversity Targets” under five Strategic Goals. Aichi Target 1 is that by 2020 at the latest, “people are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably”.

A recent paper published in the journal Conservation Biology claims to evaluate the contribution of zoos and aquariums in relation to Aichi Biodiversity Target 1. The study evaluated whether zoo visitors gained an increased understanding of biodiversity and knowledge of actions to help protect biodiversity during their visit, using data from 26 zoos and aquariums across 19 countries. According to the accompanying press release, “the study found that visiting a zoo or aquarium has a measurable positive impact on people’s biodiversity knowledge”.

But before we accept this conclusion, let’s look more closely at the evidence. What do visitors to a small number of zoos and aquariums have to do with whether countries can fulfil their obligations to Aichi Biodiversity Target 1?

Firstly, the authors appear to overlook the fact that at least 1 of the 19 countries included in their study – the United States – is not a signatory to the CBD and are therefore under no legal obligation to uphold the strategies or action plans.

Secondly, the study reveals that just over half the respondents (56.5%) reportedly saw or heard biodiversity information during their visit. But what about the 43.5% of zoo visitors who apparently did not see or hear biodiversity information during their visit? Let’s stop and think about that for a minute: Almost half of zoo visitors in this study did not acknowledge being exposed to biodiversity information. This makes the educational and conservation claims of zoos start to look rather shaky.

Furthermore, the study indicates that the most noticeable effect on changing biodiversity understanding was on visitors with a formal education and/or who were already a member of an environmental group. Hardly surprising that respondents with a higher level of education and those who were already interested in environmental issues are more likely to spend time looking at and digesting biodiversity information in zoos is it?

Finally, all the zoos and aquariums included in the study were members of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). While there are over 300 WAZA members worldwide, these zoos represent a tiny proportion of the many thousands of zoos that exist globally. WAZA member organisations simply cannot be considered representative of zoos and aquaria worldwide.

So, overall, much more evidence is needed before we leap to the conclusion that zoos are integral to fulfilling our commitments to increasing biodiversity awareness.

But what of captive breeding, that apparently key activity that zoos undertake in the name of conservation? Another paper published in the same journal in November 2014 looked at the captive breeding of mammals in zoos. The main aim of this paper was to assess whether coordinated breeding programmes in zoos have succeeded in increasing captive populations.

The study suggests that too much effort is expended on species that are not threatened in the wild, or are otherwise poor candidates for eventual release to the wild. These species are often larger mammals such as primates and carnivores; species which may encourage visitors to the zoo but are very expensive to maintain in captivity.

The author concludes that “there is literally not enough space in the world’s zoos right now to substantially increase the number of truly successful captive breeding programs”.

So, if the success of captive breeding programmes in zoos is likely to be limited, and zoos are not effectively making the public aware of biodiversity, it begs the question: just what ARE zoos doing for conservation? Are their claims to be contributing to conservation just smoke and mirrors? The Born Free Foundation is convinced that the time has come for the zoo industry to come clean, and to be transparent with their visitors and the wider public about just what exactly zoos do – and don’t do.

A Tragic Disconnect

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Hello readers, here is a blog from my friend and Born Free Foundation CEO, Adam Roberts

A recent edition of Connect, a publication by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) as “a forum for promoting AZA’s mission”, was at pains to highlight their members’ support for tiger conservation programs.

Apparently, in 2013, 47 AZA accredited zoos and aquariums supported tiger conservation. This figure accounts for approximately 21% of their 228 accredited zoos and aquariums.  Sounds reasonable enough, right?

HOW did they support tiger conservation? WHAT did they actually support? I wonder.

According to the AZA, in 2013 “member facilities” spent $572,908 on tiger conservation.

Firstly, which are these “member facilities”? Are they simply the 47 AZA accredited zoos and aquariums? Or do they include the non-accredited animal keeping member facilities, such as the International Animal Exchange, Inc, an animal transport company, or Natural Encounters, Inc, who provide expertise on animal training and shows?

Moreover, participating in conservation can include a variety of activities. It could include funding of field conservation in the wild (in situ conservation). On the other hand, it might simply be participating in captive breeding programs, or even contributing to the costs of maintaining the animal collection. Does this relatively small sum, equivalent to less than $2000 per AZA accredited zoo, in some cases include the costs of keeping tigers in zoos under the term “conservation” (conserving the species by housing an individual?)? And if so, does that really justify claims about conservation participation by AZA zoos?

Whatever the answers to these questions, what is clear is that there is a financial and human  investment made by zoos in keeping animals in captivity. We are convinced that this investment could be put to better use protecting animal populations in the wild. Tigers have no difficulty reproducing when given the opportunity to in their natural environment; resources spent on captive breeding programs serve only to diminish resources that could be spent on wild populations.

The real questions are: are we ensuring that tigers breed in the wild, not in captivity, so populations can increase; and, are we mitigating the conditions that have caused the precipitous and dramatic decline of wild tiger populations over the past century?

Human-animal conflict, habitat destruction and poaching are key threats currently pushing wild tigers to the brink of extinction. The drive to satisfy Asian demand for tiger parts and products made from them is hastening the species’ demise. The Born Free Foundation is taking positive steps to protect wild tiger populations: engaging with local communities in Central India with the Satpuda Landscape Tiger Programme (SLTP), and working to enforce bans on international trade in tigers and tiger parts. All the while rescuing individual tigers in need with partners like Wildlife S.O.S. and ensuring a humane lifetime of care.

Sure, zoos are quick to talk dollars invested in “tiger conservation” and praise their tenuous involvement in wild tiger population improvements, but the fact remains that the battle for tiger conservation will be won in the wild, not within the concrete confines of American zoos.

Adam Roberts

Hyenas: Overlooked and Underappreciated

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Guest blog from Adam Roberts, Born Free Foundation CEO

When we hear stories about wildlife rescue, the accounts typically tell of species like elephants, or tigers, or macaques, or bears, or other well-loved and well-known species. Rarely do we hear about the plight of hyenas.

I remember the first time I saw wild hyenas. We were on safari in Kenya after the 2000 Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES held in Nairobi, and our Land Rover emerged from a thicket of trees to see four or five hyenas lurking around the base of one very big tree. We gawked, amazed… how big; how powerful; how intriguing. Then, I looked up and saw the leopard in the tree with a fresh kill! The scavengers we watched with such joy were lingering for cast-offs from the leopard’s meal.

As a species, hyenas are greatly misunderstood. People seem to be turned off by the aggression in adult hyenas, or because hyenas are not generally perceived to be as ‘cute’ as other types of animals. But, hyenas are in need, just like any other species. (And, let me tell you… having bottle-fed baby hyenas at Born Free Foundation Ethiopia’s rescue center on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, I can assure you that they are utterly adorable, playful, and rambunctious!)

Adopt Born Free's rescued Hyenas here

To Born Free, not only do entire species matter, but individual animals matter. That’s why we rescue hyenas—an orphaned cub left behind when his mother was killed, a baby who fended for himself after a flood washed him out, a hyena who had been confined to a zoo—and rehabilitate them in a spacious enclosure. Hyenas are highly social, so the interaction that they experience at the rescue center is crucial to their recovery. Once they grow to be self-sufficient, we will release them back into the wild, if possible.

In the wild, hyenas only number in the tens of thousands. And, the hyena’s biggest threat? Humans. Hyenas often prey on livestock, so as prevention—and in retaliation—farmers shoot, trap, snare, or poison hyenas, or even hunt them with dogs. Humans also destroy the hyena’s habitat, and our encroachment goes so far as to reduce the habitat available to the hyena’s prey. Hyenas are also poached for their supposed superstitious and medicinal benefits, such as use in traditional healing and as an aphrodisiac.

With your help, we can ensure that these hyenas have the chance for healthy, happy lives: first at our center, and then, hopefully, in the wild. That’s where they belong, and we will do our absolute best to return them there—safe and strong.

Let’s hear it for the hyena! (You can help care for our rescued Hyenas by adopting them for just £2.50 per month today.)

Keep wildlife in the wild,


Ignore the Past; Doom the Rhino

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

Guest blog from Adam Roberts, CEO Born Free USA

“I can’t believe that this is still up for discussion.

We all know that the rhinoceros is in peril, facing the looming threat of extinction due to aggressive and violent poaching for their horns. 25,000 black and white rhinos remain across all of Africa. Experts warn that wild rhinos could go extinct in just 12 short years. With rhino horn worth more by weight than gold or cocaine at the end markets in Vietnam and China, poachers are poised to send rhino populations into a freefall from which they may not recover.

So, for years, governments and conservationists alike have wondered: How can we eliminate poaching to save the rhino?

South Africa is home to almost three quarters (72.5%) of the world’s rhinos, more than 1,000 of whom are being slaughtered annually by poachers. In a desperate and highly dangerous attempt to combat poaching, the South African government continues to make noise about proposals to legalize the trade of rhino horn. South Africa could petition to auction off its stockpile of rhino horn in a one-off sale, authorize its commercial trade, or regulate the trade internationally through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) (when the Parties to CITES meets in 2016… in South Africa).

Trade proponents blithely contend that a legal horn trade would replace existing illegal black markets with legal regulated markets. Legalization is intended to saturate the marketplace, thereby dropping the price of rhino horn, and, in theory, reducing the incentive to poach. But, this is simply not the way it works in the real (natural) world.

Why? Two reasons: money and access.

From a financial standpoint, poaching a rhino in the wild is cheap compared to the cost of running a rhino “farm.” Criminal networks would likely undercut the price of farmed rhino horn, or even poach cheaply in other countries—and poaching would likely remain more profitable for would-be poachers than legal trade could ever be. The profit from killing even a single rhino can change the life of an impoverished poacher. If there’s money to be made, poaching will continue. And, there are professional criminal syndicates poised to make a killing.

From a historical standpoint, we have already found, quite simply, that the legal farming of wild animals does not deter poaching. Governments have attempted the strategy of allowing legal sale of endangered animal products—with disastrous results. China has legalized the sale of tiger skin and tiger bones from captive facilities, but poachers continue to kill wild tigers to the edge of extinction. China “farms” bears for their gallbladders and bile, leading to individual animal suffering for Asiatic black bears and poaching of wild American black bears to supply demand. CITES has allowed two legal sales of stockpiled elephant ivory from four southern African nations to China and Japan, but these sales only increased demand from China and Southeast Asia—spiking the incidence of illegal elephant poaching to its highest known levels, and threatening the very survival of the species.

Philosopher George Santayana famously wrote that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Legalizing the trade in wild animal parts has not quelled poaching in the past. It will not reduce poaching now. And, if history has taught us anything, we have no reason to believe that it will protect wildlife in the future.

And, how would we expect this new, legal trade to be enforced? Authorities barely enforce the existing bans and legislation, and corruption within authorities is often rife. How would authorities differentiate legally-obtained rhino horns from those obtained illegally? Current technology is incapable of easily identifying the origin of each horn. That leaves us with a glaring gap that criminal networks can exploit in order launder illegal product into the legal market.

A major consideration in the discussion of rhino horn trade—indeed, the singular driving force in the trade itself—is demand. Legal trade stimulates demand by legitimizing the product in the eyes of consumers, and by pumping more product into the marketplace. The increasing demand from East Asia (namely China, Vietnam, and Thailand) stems from long-standing cultural beliefs about the medicinal and social benefits of rhino horn, but also includes new uses like supposed cancer-curing properties, use as a hangover remedy, and as a symbol of status and wealth. (All medicinal uses are pointless, of course, as rhino horn is merely composed of keratin: the same substance that comprises human hair and fingernails.) If we can educate Eastern cultures about reducing consumption of rhino horn, we may be able to save the rhino. In fact, the survival of the species may depend on it. But, by legalizing, and therefore legitimizing, rhino horn, we will simply be reinforcing the beliefs that maintain the demand.

We’ve seen that demand reduction can work. Severe poaching spikes from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s sparked international outrage, which led to government response, awareness campaigns, and trade bans in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Yemen—all of which successfully reduced demand, and, therefore, reduced rhino poaching.

So, legalizing the trade in rhino horn could send mixed messages to Eastern cultures and to the public as a whole. In one breath, we implore an end to this vicious trade: reduce demand, stigmatize consumption of the product, educate those who tout its benefits, and conserve the species. However, in the next breath, we work to legalize it: increase supply, mitigate the stigma, undermine the message we send to Asian nations about the uselessness of the product, and willfully consent to government-sanctioned consumption of the species. These concepts are utterly dichotomous. They’re completely opposite, mutually exclusive goals. Calling for demand reduction… while simultaneously increasing the supply? What a confusing, hypocritical message. And, it’s the rhinos who will ultimately suffer the consequences.

Of course, this is a complex issue for which there is no simple solution. We have established that legalizing trade in animal parts is an ineffective means to stop poaching; anti-poaching legislation and trade bans have not ended poaching, either; and, though we know that we must work tirelessly to reduce demand, the task of reframing thousands of years of Asian tradition, and overturning more modern uses of rhino horn, is easier said than done.

But, one thing is for certain. We must move forward, not backward. We mustn’t ignore what we do know. We must use our data to continue to develop strategies that prioritize the protection of existing rhinos; allow their populations to flourish into the next generations; and maintain the ecological utility and integrity of these wild animals by focusing on policies that keep them in the wild.

That is, after all, where wild animals belong.

Keep Wildlife in the Wild,


Keep Elephants – and Ivory – Safe

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

Guest Blog from Born Free USA CEO Adam Roberts

“A year ago, I proudly attended the U.S. ivory crush in Colorado: a coordinated demolition of nearly six tons of seized elephant ivory, symbolizing the U.S.’s intolerance for elephant poaching and sending a message to the world that ivory should be permanently removed from any possible commercial use. The ivory crush was an emotional event, evoking sadness for the massacred elephants; frustration with the continuing scourge of violent poaching; and encouragement that our nation is taking concerted action and leadership.

There was much debate surrounding the ivory “crush”: a debate that was echoed in similar destructions in Africa and Asia and Europe, as some felt that the ivory should not be destroyed. They argued that it was pointless; that it was already confiscated; and, in some arenas, that seized, stockpiled ivory should be sold to generate revenue for wildlife conservation efforts.

Today, only one year later, I read a report indicating that over a ton of seized elephant ivory—worth approximately 1.1 million U.S. dollars—has just been stolen from a ‘secure’ government armory in Uganda. Corrupt officials are thought to be the culprits, stealing the confiscated ivory from the Uganda Wildlife Authority and selling the tusks. An investigation is underway to determine the details.

But, regardless of the outcome of the investigation, the damage has been done. This incident demonstrates that stockpiles of ivory are vulnerable to theft; this theft demonstrates that officials who oversee quantities of ivory cannot necessarily be trusted; and this breach of trust demonstrates that confiscated ivory cannot be safely held in stockpiles indefinitely. All this in addition to the simple fact that, as long as stockpiled ivory remains available, there also remains the perception that ivory may once again be sold. This inspires elephant poachers and ivory profiteers to ply their deadly and destructive trade.

Ivory is worth an astounding amount of money: more by weight than gold or cocaine. Where you and I see a regrettable hoard of slaughtered elephants’ body parts, the ivory trafficker sees dollar signs.

Let me make this clear; ivory stockpiles should be destroyed. Remove the ivory, and remove the risk of its re-entrance into the marketplace entirely. Keep the ivory, and keep alive the threat of theft and resale that fuels the vicious ivory trade.

Keep Wildlife in the Wild,