Many countries across the globe were put into lockdown this year and, for many of us, it was the first time we had been unable to move freely around. We used people’s experiences of the UK’s spring lockdown to launch Creature Discomforts, an animation highlighting the plight of the many wild animals who will spend their whole lives behind bars.
Before COVID-19 struck, many people were unaware of coronaviruses – a large family of viruses that are common in animals, but that can also be transmitted to humans. The warning signs have been there for years, but we failed to learn from past mistakes. That’s why we launched a campaign to close wildlife markets, thought to be the source of COVID-19, and curb wildlife trade. Nearly 6,500 of you have sent an email to the World Health Organisation calling for it to recommend the closure of wildlife markets worldwide.
Where there’s life, there’s hope – so we are delighted many of our projects reported a baby boom in 2020. In Kenya, lion numbers have increased 25% to 2,489. The Amboseli Elephant Research Project celebrated the birth of more than 170 elephants, including two sets of twins. The Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme welcomed an incredible 48 Ethiopian wolf pups. And the Orangutan Foundation has monitored six new arrivals.
And it wasn’t just a baby boom that our projects welcomed this year. It was great to read reports of wildlife venturing closer to urban areas while the world went into lockdown. Our projects made some interesting observations, too. In Niger, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation noticed West African giraffe ranging more widely than ever before. In Argentina, Jaguars in the Fringe recorded on camera trap a jaguar 70km south west of their usual range.
We’ve been campaigning for years to stop the exploitation of wild animals in circuses, so were popping corks when bans on the use of wild animals in circuses became law in both England and Wales. France also confirmed it planned to work towards a ban. And there was great news for elephants too when a legal challenge to the UK’s Ivory Act was dismissed, paving the way for the act to finally become law soon.
Our policy team worked hard this year to ensure wild animals are given the best possible protection. We helped bring Asian elephants and jaguars into the mandate of the UN Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals. We also generated action to increase international collaboration for the conservation of elephants, chimpanzees and carnivores.
Amid all the upheaval of 2020, two of the most important initiatives for wildlife were launched. End Wildlife Crime, of which Born Free is a founding member, launched in June to call for a global agreement on wildlife crime. And in November, 20 of the world’s leading conservation organisations, including Born Free, came together to call for urgent action for the G20 to invest in nature to protect biodiversity, avoid future pandemics and safeguard the long-term well-being and security of current and future human generations.
International travel was all but impossible this year, but we still managed to change the lives of five very deserving animals. We gave Cora and Pollyanna – two cheetah rescued from the wildlife trade – a lifetime home at our sanctuary in Ethiopia. Leopards Mowgli and Zeiss also found a much needed home at our big cat sanctuary in South Africa after the zoo they were living in closed down. And thanks to our partners One Voice, Jon the lion is rehabilitating in France after being rescued from a circus. We will rehome him as soon as he is better.
Our rescued lions King and Ciam, who both live at our big cat sanctuary at Shamwari Private Game Reserve in South Africa, made new friends this year. Having both previously been on their own, King now shares an enclosure with Thea and Ciam shares an enclosure with Cersei. It’s great to see four very happy lions.
Education felt the full force of the global pandemic this year, with schools, colleges and universities across the world forced to close. Pupils had to learn from home and parents became teachers. Our education team helped the next generation continue to learn about wildlife with new home schooling packs and an Environmental Club. We also welcomed our first Junior Ambassador – Hector Bateman.
Congratulations to Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association and Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue & Protection who were the very worthy winners of this year’s McKenna-Travers Award for Compassionate Conservation. Their £10,000 and £5,000 grants respectively will help their vital work rescuing and protecting grey crowned cranes and chimpanzees.
Wild animal populations have fallen 70% since 1970. It’s a startling statistic and one we promoted in our recent campaign Nature’s Closing Down Sale. Hijacking the commercialism of Black Friday and in the style of a brash 1980s television commercial, we urged people to adopt an animal to save a life – before it’s too late.
At Born Free, we want to do everything we can to reduce our impact on the environment, and to help our supporters, partners and suppliers to do the same. That’s why we were delighted to become the first animal welfare charity in the world to be accredited carbon neutral. We have also seamlessly left our office and moved to permanently working from home, using technology to ensure we are in touch and contactable at all times. We’ve also made our shop even more sustainable, with a new eco-store.
Despite everything that COVID-19 threw at the world, thanks to your help we have continued to directly support and lead the conservation of 14 highly-threatened species across three continents. In 2020, we helped protect an estimated 200-300 lions, 500 Ethiopian wolves, 2,000 elephants, 600-700 tigers, 660 giraffe, 320 chimpanzees, 160 gorillas and 100 rhino.
We can’t conserve wildlife if we don’t also support the local communities who live alongside wild animals and share their habitat with them. That’s why we continued to build predator-proof bomas, which prevent predators from attacking and killing livestock, in Amboseli, Kenya. A further 62 were built this year, helping to protect more than 18,000 livestock and more than 1,300 people.
Huge thanks to our long-term friend and supporter – critically-acclaimed wildlife photographer George Logan – who chose to donate proceeds from his eagerly-awaited new book Lion: Pride Before the Fall to our lion conservation work in Meru. The book officially launched earlier this month and is available for sale in our shop.
Ending South Africa’s cruel canned hunting industry was one of our top priorities this year. We kept up the pressure on the South African government by sending a petition signed by nearly quarter of a million supporters urging them to ban this barbaric practice. Our hard-hitting animation The Bitter Bond, launched last year, also won a string of top awards.
Throughout 2020, we welcomed new friends and strengthened existing friendships. Newcomers to the Born Free family included Kingspan, Vivolife, Happy Beds, Pangolin Gin, Horny Pants, Mindshot, 7th Heaven, Arma Karma, GNG Bees, LK Eco, Bidwedge, Coastal Soap, Toby Tiger, Explore Travel and BoHo Tusk. We have also continued our advertising at the stadia of various English Championship football teams who have animals on their logo.
2020 has forced everyone to adapt to ‘the new normal’. This adaptation included your awesome fundraising feats. Long-term Born Free supporters Angela and Martin walked more than 180km during a two-month lockdown challenge and raised more than £30,000. You got bidding in our online auctions to raise funds for lions, orangutans and bears. A five-strong Born Free team braved the elements to take on this year’s Virtual London Marathon. And our new raffle is offering one lucky supporter and a friend the trip of a lifetime to our big cat sanctuary in South Africa (there’s still time to enter!).
We mean this from the bottom of our hearts – we could not do what we do without your unstinting generosity. Thanks to you, in 2020 we have helped fund, among other work, the monitoring of lions and the protection of rhinos in Meru National Park, Kenya; the conservation and release back to the wild of orangutans in Borneo; and the rescue, rehabilitation and release of orphan bear cubs in Russia – thank you!
Images © George Logan, Filip Fortuna, Aaron Gekoski, OBRC, RWCA, Shamwari Private Game Reserve, Orangutan Foundation, www.tigersintheforest.com,
W Burrard-Lucas, Piers Allardyce