GSPCA¹ President and Born Free’s Senior Veterinary Consultant John Knight BVetMed, MRCVS tells us the things that drive him wild.
How did you first meet Born Free?
I feel fortunate to have been associated with BFF for more than 15 years. It all started with me being asked to help develop an approach to zoo standards. Soon afterwards I was asked to move “Kimba”, a dear old lioness, from a terrible captive existence in northern Italy. From that point on I have been involved with many of BFF’s projects, all of which I’ve found interesting, and very worthwhile.
What’s your favourite wild animal?
This is a question I’m often asked as I’ve been privileged to work with so many: it’s a very difficult one to answer. The best answer is “the animal I’m working with at the time” but you may regard this as a bit of a cop out. There are so many animals that I have happy memories of. But, if pushed to choose one it would be the giant panda.
Where is your special wild place?
Much of my childhood was spent in East Africa and nothing excites me as much as returning to the African Rift Valley. But perhaps my favourite little place is Mzima Springs in Kenya’s Tsavo West National park. Here the rains falling on the volcanic Chylulu hills have percolated though the lava flows to emerge as fresh springs to form clear pools inhabited by fish, hippos and crocodiles. You can go down into a glass-fronted tank to watch them, and from above you can observe the many and varied local wildlife coming to this permanent waterhole to drink amongst the tall acacias and raffia palms. It brings back happy boyhood memories and I still find it a magical place, in spite of it being somewhat ruined by ignorant tourists who have fed the monkeys and turned them into little muggers! In the same way that people have done a disservice to bears, primates and other animals in so many parts of the world.
What’s the best way to relax?
Music is one of the first things I reach for wherever I am. It is a fantastically primitive and powerful medium that can enhance and modify the way we feel. I enjoy listening to many genres, and often get into the rhythm. If I had to pick a favourite it would be Santana’s “Samba Pa Ti”.
What is your favourite book?
“Island Africa: Evolution of Africa's Animals and Plants” is well written and illustrated by Jonathan Kingdon. it thoughtfully describes the ongoing processes of topographical and climate change together with the important role animals play in moulding the environment in the continent from where we all evolved.
What animal causes are you passionate about?
Animal welfare, the preservation of agricultural breeds, and the conservation of wildlife and habitats: they are all important to me. However, I also feel passionately that we should not forget the plight of the native peoples of this planet, their welfare is often in jeopardy and they have so much to contribute.
What environmental issues drive you mad?
The world has never had an environment that remains stable for any length of time. Its variation drives speciation and maintains diversity. However, the accelerating speed of change since the advent of mankind together with the extraordinary rate of extinctions during this time is of huge concern. Man’s often-misguided efforts to control our environment and more recently to manage or rectify this change are frequently done in haste and may not always be properly thought out. Our actions can have long-term deleterious consequences. Examples include: the introduction of exotic species, production of biofuels, palm oil production and the dominance of cultivars, poorly sited wind farms, etc.
It is vitally important to maintain the diversity of species, whilst fossilising our environment should not be an option.
What easy thing could everyone do to make the world a better place?
Do not jump to conclusions. Take an overview and show a greater tolerance and a belief in the good intentions of most: whilst at the same time remaining intolerant of cruelty, thoughtlessness and exploitation.
Why are you wild about Born Free?
Virginia McKenna is a shining example of what an individual can achieve in a lifetime. Genuinely caring for animal welfare, she has inspired so many and made a real difference to how people behave and feel. In Born Free Virginia has instilled a constancy of purpose and persistence, together with a culture of support. I admire the dedication and steadfast purpose this charity exhibits in the pursuit of its goals. This is something Born Free can be proud of. I am certainly proud to be associated with it.