Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

Virginia

Virginia McKenna Guest Blog

Thursday, June 1st, 2017

23rd May 2017 is a date that will remain engraved on our hearts always.  Some dates are like that, often for the happiest of reasons – others for the darkest.  The city of Manchester was yet another victim of the world’s perpetrators of violence and intolerance.  The cruel and arbitrary killing of innocent people, including children, seems to sweep across the world in relentless waves.  No one knows when or if it will end.  No one knows how to end it.

Overwhelmed as everyone is by this tragedy, ‘life’ goes on.  And that includes the election of a new government in a weeks’ time.  Promises of good things are made by all the Parties.  I won’t list them here but included, of course, are housing, the health service, education, defence…. But some issues are conspicuous by their absence.

I cannot specifically name political parties; as a charity we have to be a-political.  But while, in some respects, the promises made are encouraging, others are quite the opposite.  Building on ‘Green Belt’, a free vote to bring back fox-hunting, to name a couple.

There is one personal example I can give. The approval of proposals to ‘explore’ for oil in the area near where I live – which is both Green Belt and a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  Money turns all to dust.  ‘Oh, we will put it all back when we’ve finished’ they cry.  Do they mean replant all the trees; entice the wild creatures to return to a barren land?

Nature has never been more vulnerable, and I am not only writing about the land around us, here on this small island.  As a direct result of human activities and our ever-growing population, there is less and less room for wildlife. We are in a state of total imbalance.  On the whole, wild animals, if left alone, just get on with their lives – but that’s an ever-increasing challenge.  We like to use them – make money out of them for food, for ‘sport’, take their land, destroy their habitats.  Only occasionally do we reflect on their aesthetic contribution to the planet.

It is many years since Joanna Lumley and I wrote to the then Prime Minister, asking for there to be a ban on wild animals in circuses.  Basically we were told it would be delivered ‘when Parliamentary time allows’.  We know, for a fact, that a huge cross-party majority of MPs would like a ban.  Yet, so far, nothing has been done.  A handful of animals continue to languish in their trailers or in ‘winter quarters’, performing in the ring to command when the season begins.  We lag, shamefully, behind 19 other countries.

We permit the sale of wild animals on the internet – who knows where they have come from or where they are going?  Birds in small cages unable to fly, puppy ‘farms’, intensive poultry rearing, the badger cull, calves removed from their mothers for the veal industry, the lifetime confinement of wild animals in zoos.  And the elephant ivory trade, the poaching of rhino for their horn, the ‘trophy hunting’ of big cats – so shockingly forced into our consciousness by the meaningless and illegal death of Cecil the beautiful lion, cruelly killed in Zimbabwe by an American dentist.

I don’t want words – I’ve used far too many here.  I want action.  I implore our leaders, whoever they are, to set an example of kindness, sensitivity, compassion towards animals as well as humans.  They seem to forget, or perhaps are just indifferent to the fact, that animals also feel pain, joy, loneliness, fear, jealousy, friendship.

Here at Born Free we know, from the experience of our work over the past 33 years, that the perils faced by the natural world I have described above are not an exaggeration.

I think living creatures deserve better than that.  I think we need to ‘Keep Wildlife in the Wild’, where it belongs.

Virginia McKenna

Ethiopian Wolf Conservation

Monday, April 10th, 2017

Dear Friends of Wildlife

I’m absolutely freezing!  It is hard to believe that in Africa you would need to wear three layers inside your sleeping bag but at nearly 14,000 feet above sea level, high up in the Bale Mountains at the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Research Centre, that is exactly what you need – and hot soup helps too!

I am here with Professor Claudio Sillero, Born Free’s Head of Conservation, Dr Zelealem Tefera, Born Free’s Country Manager in Ethiopia, together with Alo and the rest of the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Project team, looking for the world’s most endangered wolf.

They are only found at 10,000 feet above sea level; they are only found in Ethiopia; they are only found in the wild; and there are none in captivity.

This elegant red and white wolf, a specialist hunter, which feeds mainly on rodents (and, in particular, the one kilogram giant mole rat) is incredibly rare and beautiful. Against the dramatic skyline, as scudding clouds, in turn, shift the landscape from blazing sun to almost purple grey, the Ethiopian wolf stands out. They hunt alone but live together, taking enormous care looking after and raising their precious pups.  Over 12 months ago, a rabies outbreak (contracted from dogs living in outlying communities) decimated the population but this year’s pups are numerous and wolves are on the increase again.

Born Free has been supporting this incredible conservation work for nearly 20 years and, together with Oxford University, the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority (EWCA) and the Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN), we have managed to give this most unusual predator a fighting chance.

I reflected as I walked with Alo, the Head of the Wolf Monitoring Team, across the stark but beautiful landscape, how strange it is that there are four times as many giant pandas in the world – recipients of millions of column inches and tens of millions of dollars – and yet the Ethiopian wolf barely gets a look in. It is even more bizarre to think that while almost none of us will see an Ethiopian wolf in the wild, we have its ‘relative’ in millions of households across the UK. The companionship of domestic dogs which bring much joy into our lives would not exist were it not for wolves and so, as we fight to save this species and its fragile habitat, I reach out to all dog owners, asking them to show some respect and to lend their support to the ancestors of the animal that sits by the fire, fetches the ball and pulls us along full of joy and glee when we shout ‘walkies’.

So when you next look at your dog, remember the  Ethiopian wolf and help us at Born Free to give the species a long-term future.

Blogging off.
Will

Tilikum’s legacy

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

Dear Friends,

The recent news of the death of Tilikum (aged 35), the famous captive Orca, created world-wide news, coming, as it did, hard on the heels of the death of Granny, the oldest-known wild orca.

That stark comparison seems to have a struck  a chord with many, including my good friend and colleague, Samantha Goddard.

Here is her Guest Blog.

Best wishes
Will

I was truly shocked when I read aloud the news that Tilikum, the most famous orca in captivity, had died on Friday 6th January 2017. He had long suffered deteriorating health due to a drug-resistant bacterial lung infection, and yet his death still shocked me and millions of others.

I can still remember the first time I saw Tilikum. Following the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010, there was a flood of footage on newsmedia around the world about orcas in their tanks. One of them was, of course, Tilikum, the largest of them all. I remember seeing an aerial shot of him in the medical tank, not much larger than his own body. That image has always stayed with me; an epitome of injustice.

Following his capture from the waters off Iceland in 1983, aged just 2 years old, Tilikum was held in captivity for 33 years, spending the last 24 of those at SeaWorld Orlando. In 2010, he became the most talked about orca in the world after he killed trainer, Dawn Brancheau. This was why I first saw Tilikum in the news, and incidentally why film director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, decided that his story was one that had to be told to the world – and tell it she did.

In 2013, the film documentary, Blackfish, was released. It exposed, in a heart-breaking and truly shocking way, the real plight of orca in captivity, the capture, the wasted lives of confinement, the injuries and tragedies, the exploitation. Blackfish  was a smash hit, having now been seen by more than 100 million people.

Following its success the public attendance fell, profits fell, the stock price fell (and continues to fall) and reputation of SeaWorld – a company that once seemed untouchable – sank. This sea-change is down to a growing sense of uneasiness amongst members of the public and the campaigning efforts over decades of organisations such as Born Free.  But more than that, it was down to Blackfish, and one in particular – Tilikum.

The loss of Tilikum is a cause of great sadness, but not the only one we have recently had to accept. The news of Tilikum’s passing came just two days after the death of the world’s oldest-known wild orca, Granny. On 4th January 2017, The Centre for Whale Research announced Granny’s presumed passing. She was estimated to be 105 years old (born in approximately 1910) and enjoyed a life of freedom in the wild. This is a stark comparison to the life led by Tilikum, who endured life in a tank for over thirty years. Despite these shocking differences, both lives should be equally celebrated, for they both remind us that our continued flight for the plight of these animals in captivity is something that will never waver until all the tanks are empty. They remind us that, despite all the challenges, wildlife belongs in the wild.

#EmptyTheTanks, #SanctuariesNotTanks

#TheFinalRoar

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

Dear Friends,

Born Free’s ‘Year of The Lion’ may be coming to a close BUT it isn’t over yet!

And this Friday there is a special chance to ROAR for lions everywhere in our ‘Final Roar’ Tweetstorm.

It’s a unique opportunity to answer a series of lion challenges, share this year-end platform with hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of others – and make a difference!

Here’s what you do:

Head over to our Twitter at 13:00 on Friday, 9th December. We will be tweeting specific tweets over the course of one hour. Please feel free to retweet as well as answering our tweets with your thoughts on everything Born Free!

With an estimated 20,000 wild lions left across Africa, with fragmented populations under pressure from loss of habitat, depleted numbers of natural prey, persecution by communities in revenge for livestock predation, and the additional impact of poaching and trophy hunting – there has never been a more important time for us all to come to the rescue of a species that is heading for extinction across much of its range.

So find space in your heart, and time on Friday to join the ‘Final Roar’ Tweetstorm.

Spread the word and save lions!

Blogging off!
Will

The EU Zoo Inquiry 2016

Friday, December 2nd, 2016

Dear Friends

In 1987, prompted by distressing images of captive wild animals in European zoos, and at the request of the European Commission, a fledgling organisation then called Zoo Check (now Born Free), embarked on an investigation to try and find out just what was going on in EU zoos. At that time, the best list of zoological facilities indicated that there were in the order of 300 institutions. By the time we had finished our work which took more than a year, we had 1007.

Of course, we were, even then, way off the mark because today more robust data indicates that there are nearly 4000 zoos across the European Union.

How do we know this? Because our original research led ultimately to the establishment of the European Zoos Directive (1999/22) which required, amongst other things, that all zoos be licenced.

So now we know roughly how many zoos there are, but do we know what goes on in them?

In 2009, Born Free launched a six year project, called The EU Zoo Inquiry, which actually visited hundreds of zoos and recorded millions of images to try to answer questions such as; whether the minimum requirements of the Zoos Directive had been implemented; whether the zoo community was delivering on its obligations to conserve bio-diversity; whether zoos were truly educating the millions of visitors who still come through the door.

The results of our investigations were shocking. A handful of countries and a handful of zoos have stepped up and were trying. The majority, not so much.

But our effort has resulted in two unexpected and positive outcomes. It has encouraged the European Union to pay for the creation of a ‘Good Practices’ zoos guide, published in 2015, aimed at building-capacity within the government authorities and the zoo industry. It has also prompted the commissioning of REFIT, An Evaluation of the Zoos Directive, which is now, as we speak, assessing the impact of the Zoos Directive.

Participating in the evaluation is open to everyone. It is not necessarily easy and it can be a little complex but, if you have the time to take part and complete the online questionnaire, which will help inform the European Union (whether you are a fan of the EU or not!), then here is the link.

Remember, there are millions of captive wild animals in thousands of EU zoos, including dolphins in dolphinaria, elephants, lions, primates, the mega-vertebrates.  But also there are so many species that so easily get forgotten – that fly under the radar.

If the Directive were rigorously applied and if the standards set by national governments were improved and enforced then the kind of neglect and suffering we still witness day in, day out in European zoos, would diminish significantly.

So you have time to spare (is it something for the weekend?) here is that link again and here is a link to a document that will help you complete the Questionnaire. The consultation process closes on the 8th December.

Good luck and thanks for helping.

Blogging off
Will

PS. The deprivation and suffering of captive wild animals is never out of my thoughts for long. So watch out in 2017 for the launch of some exciting initiatives that could make a real difference – you can be part of the change!

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

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

Improving The Lives of Animals in Europe’s Zoos Can Only be Achieved by Working Together

Friday, October 14th, 2016

Dear Friends,

There are millions of wild animals in Europe’s 4,000 or so zoos. Many live in grim conditions. Making their lives better, even while we work towards the day when our efforts and resources are directed at ‘keeping wildlife in the wild’, must be a top priority, as my friend and colleague, Daniel Turner, explains.

Blogging off
Will

Improving The Lives of Animals  in Europe’s Zoos Can Only be Achieved by Working Together

This week, Born Free has been exhibiting a series of extraordinary photographs of wild animals taken at zoos across the European Union.

The exhibition, presented at the European Parliament in Brussels, is striking, yet shocking, considering the plight of these animals were captured this year. Our photographers, award-winning Britta Jaschinski and Jo-Anne McArthur, have ensured the debate about the role of zoos focuses, for once, the way in which the animals are kept.

“Great pictures, and a necessary initiative” expressed Josu from Italy, who has visited the exhibition this week, whilst Barbara, from the Czech Republic, commented, “A long way to go. Horrifying!”.That’s Born Free’s biggest concern. There are millions of wild animals in the estimated 4,000 EU zoos and if even half that number are being kept in conditions that fail to meet their basic welfare needs, how can we begin to make a difference to the lives of so many animals?

Politicians, who have rallied behind our efforts this week, can help us make a difference. The South East of England MEP, Keith Taylor, who sponsored our exhibition, also organised a 2-hour round-table discussion on the welfare impact on zoo animals, ensuring that key issues were considered in detail. Politicians can hold the European Commission (the EU civil service), those responsible for the implementation of the EU zoo law (the EU Zoos Directive), to account and highlight the need for significantly improved animal welfare standards.

The governments of each of the 28 EU countries can certainly make a difference too. Ultimately their relevant authorities – State employed zoo inspectors and veterinarians – are responsible for the implementation of the requirements of the EU Zoos Directive and the enforcement of national zoo law.

Born Free’s EU Zoo Inquiry has revealed that many authorities actually lack the knowledge and expertise needed to ensure high standards in wild animal care. Addressing this surprising and deeply worrying revelation is the next priority for the Born Free Foundation team but, only a collaborative approach, with other stakeholders, is likely to address this knowledge deficit.

Last, but by no means least, the public’s ability to influence change must never be under estimated. The welcome announcement by TripAdvisor yesterday, that it would be stopping its promotion of captive animal attractions that exploit animals through direct public interaction, is a result of public pressure.

YOU can influence your politicians, your national government and even the zoos themselves. How? By contributing to an EU-wide public survey evaluating the role of zoos – and specifically whether zoos do or should contribute to biodiversity conservation. Want to take part? Born Free has developed an informative guide which helps you through the process, but it is vitally important, for the sake of the animals, that you find the time to contribute. Then, together, we can truly make a difference!

Born Free’s guide to completing the public consultation survey

Access the public consultation survey here