Imagine a lion cub, rescued from physical abuse and the confines of a filthy cage in a Paris apartment, feeling the South African sunshine on his back for the first time and the dry grass beneath his paws.
King at Shamwari
That is the story of beautiful King the lion. Now successfully re-homed by International wildlife charityBorn Free at their big cat sanctuary in South Africa’s Shamwari Game Reserve; King’s story captured interest (and hearts) back in April, when an appeal was launched to raise the funds to deliver him back to his ancestral home of Africa, and highlight the issue of the illegal wildlife trade. For those of you who’d like to read the first part of King’s story, take a look here.
King, back in April, before his big move
The one-year-old lion cub was rescued from an apartment in Paris last summer where he was being kept illegally as an ‘exotic pet’ in appalling conditions.
After his rescue, he was temporarily homed at Natuurhulpcentrum rescue centre, Belgium, awaiting his big journey back to African soil and lifetime care provided by Born Free.
A home fit for a King…
On July 5th he travelled from Belgium, to London Heathrow airport under the care of Born Free’s expert team. In his Born Free branded wooden container, King then flew to Africa, courtesy of Kenya Airways.
Katrina Hanson, Kenya Airways’ Area Cargo Manager, said: “We were delighted to assist in King’s amazing relocation to Born Free’s Big Cat Rescue Centre at Shamwari in South Africa. We have worked with Born Free for many years carrying rescued lions from Europe to Africa so they can enjoy being a lion. These relocations have been a great success and we do all we can to make it as stress free as possible for the lions.”
After a short internal flight, King touched down in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, before travelling the short distance by road to Shamwari and to his new home at Born Free’s Jean Byrd Centre. Shamwari, where I was fortunate enough to gain a 3-month volunteer placement back in 2008, has been home to Born Free’s two Big Cat Rescue Centres for more than 20 years.
“So many people responded to our appeal to bring young King to Shamwari, and now he has arrived!,” said Virginia McKenna OBE, Born Free’s Co-Founder and Trustee. “Thanks to everyone whose hearts were touched by his story, he now takes his first steps on African soil, and can begin his happy new life. May it be a long and peaceful one.”
The exotic pet trade
The sad story of King before he was rescued highlights the plight of millions of captive wild animals around the world that are kept as exotic pets.
I’m proud to support Born Free, who oppose the keeping of wild animals as pets. They state: \Wild animals, whether they have been taken from the wild or bred in captivity, have extremely complex social, physical and behavioural needs and are, therefore, particularly susceptible to suffer when kept as pets.
Dr Chris Draper, Born Free’s Head of Animal Welfare & Captivity, adds: “It is staggering that, in 2018, lion cubs are still finding their way into the pet trade in Europe. We are concerned that King’s case is the tip of the iceberg, and that a great many wild animals are being kept illegally as pets across Europe and elsewhere. This situation needs to be addressed urgently, and we hope that by introducing the world to King – his plight, his rescue and his rehoming to lifetime care – Born Free can draw attention to this important issue.”
I’m so glad to know that for King, the tale ends happily, but like many of the people who have reacted to this story; I find it shocking to think that wild animals are being kept privately in people’s homes. In the case of King, his owner’s warped sense of pride in posting pictures of the lion cub (and the abuse he suffered) on social media was his own downfall. Thank goodness that the right people saw his posts and reacted accordingly.
I am, however, concerned about the many wild animals whose owners are not foolish enough to post their mistreatment online. How many others are stuck in an existence like the one King had?
This month’s guest blog post comes from 15-year-old wildlife campaigner Bella Lack. Bella describes her unforgettable close encounter with a male orangutan…
The light had waned until the sky was a deep navy-blue.
We stood in the warm twilight of Borneo, in the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sabah. The orang-utans had made their nests for the night and the piercing wails of the cicadas that started at sunset were slowly abating into a background throb of noise.
We were in a small group with one guide. We sat outside the orphan nursery on a damp slope, binoculars being passed round, pressed tightly to eyes and then passed on again. We were watching as the flying squirrels made their ‘leap of faith’. They would come out from their nests and scurry up the tree until, with a sudden thrust, they would launch into the night, their large bodies silhouetted against the darkening sky.
This was when our group would let out a collective sigh of wonderment as we watched these cat-sized creatures elegantly soaring through the tangled canopy. It was then that we first heard it. The sound is unlike any other I had ever heard.
Dr Brigitte Spillmann has described it as ‘a series of long booming pulses and grumbles, which can be heard through more than 1 km of dense jungle.”
However, nothing can compare with the feeling of hearing this call. It reverberates through your body.
“If he had stayed quietly in his throne of leaves, we would have been unaware of the regal presence mere metres above us.”
Upon hearing this, the guide whispered frantically into his walkie talkie. Within moments, swarms of excitable guides were materialising, weaving their way through the trees with the nimbleness and grace that only experienced forest dwellers possess. We knew this was special. In the excitement, we soon interpreted that that the male had never been seen before. He was wild.
It is not unusual for a dominant male to leave his nest if he has been disturbed. Regretfully, he must have obviously felt unsettled by the throng of binocular wielding apes that stood searching for flying squirrels and so he abandoned his nest and began to ‘long call’ in an attempt to dissuade us.
If he had stayed quietly in his throne of leaves, we would have been unaware of the regal presence mere metres above us.
He soon came down, his eyes ablaze with the anger that any human will know if they have been disturbed from deep sleep. His flanges protruded from his cheeks. His body was massive, drenched in thick orange hair. His hands were easily larger than my head and we watched in admiration as this king of the jungle attempted to proceed towards us.
Fortunately, the shoots that he used to try and swing towards were much too delicate for this mighty king. When his anger had heightened into a boiling rage, we were ushered away.
Yet, to this day, I can still see this indomitable being glaring at us through the foliage. It was an experience I could never forget.
Bella Lack is a young conservationist and wildlife campaigner. She has a strong social media presence, which she uses to educate and inspire others concerning global wildlife issues to help educate others on critical problems and encourage them to take action. As well as running her own blog; callfromthewild.com, she is an ambassador for Born Free Foundation and The Pocket Pals App. She is the youth organiser of the This Is Zero Hour London march, which empowers youth to lead the fight against climate change and will be speaking with other young naturalists at Birdfair on the 19th of August.Find her on Twitter: @BellaLack
Having the chance to get outdoors, tackle any signs of the so-called ‘nature-deficit disorder‘ and photograph all manner of birds, bugs and butterflies (I’ve shared some of these findingshere and on my Instagram feed), feels so good for the soul and does wonders for calming any stress or anxiety.
Badger watch at Tewin Orchard
I was also fortunate enough to attend my first ever badger watch at the start of June, at Tewin Orchard in Hertfordshire. Organised by my good friend Dominic Dyer, CEO of the Badger Trust, and lead by Christie Wood, Chair of the Herts & Middlesex Badger Group. What an amazing experience!
I had never seen a live badger before, just a handful of dead creatures at the side of the road during my years of growing up in Norfolk; so to actually see badgers coming into full view, bouncing towards us and sniffing the ground, was such a treat.
I had no idea that badgers have very poor eyesight, and follow ‘scent lines‘ to find their way around. They make these lines using a scent gland under their tails, which produces a smelly liquid called musk. They then use their scent lines to locate regular feeding spots.
During the course of the evening, we saw a total of 14 badgers (all at one time!), which were joined by a muntjac deer, 2 rabbits and 2 foxes; a timid vixen (pictured above) and a much more boisterous male. We even heard a owl hooting from nearby.
On the short drive home — to top off such a special evening — I spotted a family of foxes feeding at the side of the road. A mother with 4 cubs! I really did feel like I’d turned into Snow White for the evening! See more of my badger watch photos at the bottom of this post.
East Harling Primary School assembly
It seemed a great and fitting opportunity then, in the same month, to be approached by East Harling Primary School in Norfolk and asked to give a British wildlife themed assembly.
Helping the children to think about their whole school topic: “Whose world is it anyway?“, I prepared a talk focussing on badgers and foxes specifically and enlisted the help of Badger Trust CEO and Born Free Policy Advisor Dominic Dyer to advice the children on how we can best take care of our native wildlife.
Kate on Conservation giving an assembly about British wildlife at East Harling Primary School
Bringing the talk around to my role at National Geographic Kids magazine and my experience of blogging about wildlife and the environment, I discussed a few things I’d learnt about British wildlife.
I encouraged the children to think about the difference between native and non-native species, using grey squirrels and red squirrels as an example and we discussed the ways that grey squirrels compete with our native red squirrels.
I asked the children whether they had seen animals in the wild, perhaps near their houses or in local woodland, and was happy to see almost all hands raised. The children listed blackbirds, pigeon and deer as creatures they had encountered, and a few had even seen foxes and hand full cited badgers.
We played an ‘identify the species’ game, where I read out a fact, and the children had to respond to pictures; raising their hand to the badger picture if they thought the fact was about a badger, or to the fox if they thought it was a fox fact.
About 90 years ago, this animal began to move into our cities. Despite often being thought of as a countryside animal, today around 150,000 of them can be found in cities such as London. — fox
This animal’s babies are sometimes called kits — fox
This animal lives in an underground home called a ‘sett’ —badger
This animals’ tail is about one third of its length — fox
This animal can eat over 200 earthworms in a single night — badger
Traffic is a major threat to this animal, killing thousands every year. —both
I explained that sadly, 60% of foxes fall victim to road traffic collisions and 50,000 badgers are killed by cars every year – the most of any UK species. I showed them a couple of rescue stories from National Geographic Kids, about the care given to injured badgers and foxes, and how they were able to be released after being nursed back to health.
I told the children that this is why reporting any sightings of injured animals is so important, and that we also encourage readers to ask anyone they know who drives a car to slow down when driving on country roads — especially at night, as these animals are nocturnal – meaning they’re doing all their feeding and foraging at nighttime.
Slower speeds on the road means these animals are more safe, and if they do get injured, they stand a better chance at rescue and survival.
Dominic Dyer gives the children a chance to see and feel Boris the badger
Dominic elaborated further on this, with the help of ‘Boris the badger’ – a taxidermy badger who had himself suffered the fate of being killed by a car, years ago.
It seemed that Boris truly captured the children’s imaginations, and the buzz of excitement that came from have the chance to see and touch the figure of a real life badger was palpable.
It seemed that by the end of the morning, the children and teachers were completely on board with supporting British wildlife and National Badger Day (taking place on 6th October this year) and thinking about how they can help with raising awareness to make roads safer for badgers.
Dominic’s exciting presentation on the work of Born Free Foundation, which encouraged the children to enjoy wildlife in the wild — through showing them the kinds of species that Born Free works with and the scenarios from which they must rescue and relocate suffering animals — was the perfect way to extend their morning’s learning by applying the “Whose world is it anyway?” topic to a wider, global viewpoint.
I was delighted to receive after the assembly this wonderful fox drawing from Bellatrix Blades. What a fantastic confirmation that the children felt inspired by our wonderful British wildlife!
Many thanks to Dominic for his help with the assembly, and to Christie Wood for leading the badger watch. As promised, here are a few more shots from my amazing evening at Tewin Orchard to conclude a brilliant 30 Days Wild!
I stood as quiet as could be, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. I barely dared to breathe out, for fear of breaking the silence in room. Then I noticed it — a twitch and scurry signalled there was life in the faux nighttime of the nocturnal kiwi house, and watching intently, I saw this odd-looking wingless bird curiously exploring its surrounds by hurriedly hopping from one foot to another. I knew in that moment I was witnessing a rare and special scene.
Kiwi bird foraging in the forests of New Zealand. Image credit: Getty.
It was July 2012, back home, England was gripped by Olympic fever, but I had barely the chance to give that a second thought; for I was enjoying my first ever trip to New Zealand‘s North Island and my days were filled with hiking luscious green mountains, caving under star-like ceilings of glow worms and smelling the sulphur scent emanating from boiling hot geezers. And there was no way I could leave the island without visiting this kiwi breeding centre to catch a glimpse of New Zealand’s captivating national icon.
Today, conservationists are in a race against time to save New Zealand’s national bird. The unique and quirky kiwi is, sadly, on the vulnerable list as its numbers have shrunk by 99% — from 5 million to roughly 50,000. For this reason, I have joined the mission to save the kiwi with Old Mout Cider.
Old Mout Cider is supporting Kiwis for kiwi to relocate kiwi birds to predator-free islands where they will grow, thrive and reproduce. They will also donate 20p to the Kiwis for kiwi charity for each sign up they receive.
Kate on Conservation joins Old Mout Cider’s mission to #SaveTheKiwi – and you can too!
What is a kiwi bird?
There are several features of the kiwi that make it a unique and incredible bird. They are nocturnal and flightless birds, with distinctive feather-like hair and nostrils at the end of their long beaks. Notably, the kiwi also has the biggest egg in relation to its size.
Kiwi are thought to have developed their weird and wonderful features thanks to New Zealand’s ancient isolation and lack of mammals. Without the threats that would have been present in other eco-systems, kiwi were able to safely evolve as ‘ratites’ – an ancient group of birds that can’t fly.
It is thought they evolved to occupy a habitat and lifestyle that elsewhere in the world would be filled by mammals, and their one-off evolutionary design holds all sorts of biological records.
Despite an evolutionary journey that goes back millions of years to the time of the dinosaur, New Zealand’s indigenous kiwi could soon go the way of its prehistoric ancestor if action isn’t taken now.
Kiwis could vanish within 50 years
The kiwi has been around for 50 million years, but despite being distant cousins of the dinosaurs, this distinctive bird could vanish within 50.
Kiwi evolved for millions of years before predators arrived in New Zealand. With no mammals to hunt them, there was no need for wings, to help them escape. When Europeans arrived, however, they brought with them terrestrial mammals that are now a menace for the kiwi.
Just one hundred years ago, kiwi numbered in the millions. In the last 50 years alone, however, the kiwi population has reduced by 99% — from 5million to 50,000.
Today, an average of 27 kiwi fall prey to larger animals every week – unable to fly away from danger; only 1 in 20 kiwi chicks survive to adulthood on New Zealand’s mainland.
That’s a population decline of around 1,000 kiwi every year. At this rate, without intervention, kiwi may disappear from the mainland in our lifetime.
Therefore, it is down to our generation to help save the kiwi bird from going extinct.
What is Old Mout Cider’s mission to save the kiwi?
Now is the time to act, to save the kiwi from being resigned to the history books forever.
Old Mout Cider were shocked to find out that the New Zealand national icon, the kiwi, was in very real danger of going extinct. So they hatched a plan to help.
They’ve teamed up with Kiwis for kiwi –a national charity that supports community-led and Māori-led kiwi conservation projects — to help relocate kiwi to a safe environment, so that New Zealand’s most famous bird can thrive once again.
New Zealand-born Old Mout Cider has also joined forces with wildlife enthusiast Michaela Strachan to make the short film, ‘A Forgotten World’.
They are undertaking a remarkable feat – creating predator free islands – to ensure the kiwi’s best chance of survival.
Kiwis for kiwi relocate the birds to islands without larger mammals, where they can grow, thrive and reproduce without fear of being hunted. Kiwi chicks are then raised in a safe environment, protected from danger, until they’re strong enough and ready to be released back into the wild.
The survival rate of kiwis on these islands increases dramatically, to 99.2%!
To ensure their calls can be heard piercing the forest air at dusk and dawn for centuries to come, New Zealand native, Old Mout Cider, is helping to support Kiwis for kiwi’s work and hoping to inspire us all to help save this vulnerable bird.
How can YOU join the mission?
Old Mout Cider is hoping to make the people of Britain fall in love with the kiwi and inspire them to save this incredible animal by signing up to its mission. And for everyone who signs up to save the kiwi, 20p will be donated to the Kiwis for kiwi charity.
I’ve signed up to support Old Mout Ciders’s mission and am very happy to discover that this ‘green’ brand has also worked to make their packaging 100% recyclable! Even better!
Like most people, I’m a huge fan of Sir David Attenborough, and his ability to inspire millions of individuals, old and young, from across the globe to take an interest in our natural world. It’s hard to understand exactly the level of influence that the veteran broadcaster has had, but the stories from his incredible career pay testament to how he’s dedicated his entire life to understanding more about our planet and its wild creatures.
But with a career so very much in the public’s eye, there must be very little that we don’t know already know about the BBC great. Or is there?
I’ve tried to compile a list of ‘10 facts you didn’t know about Sir David Attenborough’ – do let me know your favourite, or if you have a fun fact that didn’t make the list, please leave a comment in the box below. Here it goes…
1) Sir David Attenborough’s favourite animal…
is identified, re-evaluated, and changed on a regular basis. “Today it’s a weedy seadragon,” he explained when I had the incredible honour of speaking to him in Kingston, London – it’s an animal he researched and filmed off the coast of southern Australia. “They’ve evolved to look like weeds and spend the entire day dancing,” he confirmed.
2) If he could belong to any other species for a whole day…
it would be a bird of paradise. A few years back I witnessed the then 89-year-old answer this question during an audience Q&A. He smiled and replied “a bird of paradise of course, so I could dance all day looking beautiful, and see how many ‘birds’ I can attract”.
3) His love of animals comes from…
a book he read in early childhood. Sir David credits Ernest Thompson Seton’s book ‘Wild Animals I Have Known’ as igniting his passion for animals and the natural world. At the beginning of the BBC film ‘Lobo The Wolf That Changed America’ — which tells Thompson Seton’s tale of hunting the notorious wolf Lobo, and in doing so giving him a respect for animals and their personalities which would make him ultimately turn his back on wolf hunting — Sir David expressed that his love for animals and recognising them as having individual personalities comes directly from having this book in his library as a child.
4) He once fought off a pickpocket…
while travelling in Jakarta. Sir David describes this in his book ‘The Zoo Quest Expeditions’; “I suddenly remembered that in the breast pocket of my shirt, I was carrying all my money, my fountain pen, my passport and ticket. I clapped my hand over the pocket. It landed not on cloth, but one someone else’s hand. I gripped it as hard as I was able, slowly bent it back and removed my wallet from its fingers. Its owner, a sweating half-naked man with a dirty cloth tied round his forehead, glared at me savagely… I decided that in the circumstances it would be better to be gently reproving than to attempt an impersonation of an avenging fury, but the only word I could think of was ‘Tidak. No’.”
5) He agrees with cloning animals…
to save a species. “I actually agree with cloning a species if you’re down to the very last one,” he said when I had the pleasure of meeting him. Though it seems he only agrees with cloning two animals of species, adding; “but you would have to clone a male and female though, unless you plan to go on cloning over and over again to keep the species going.”
6) The rarest animal he’s ever seen…
was the last ever Pinta Island Tortoise – which he described during a lecture he gave for Environment Trust for Richmond upon Thames in 2015. He visited the male giant tortoise, known as ‘Lonesome George’, in the Galapagos Islands before this solitary creature passed away on 24th June 2012. The Pinta Galapagos tortoise was already thought extinct for about 100 years, until scientists discovered ‘Lonesome George’. “There was only one in the whole wide world, and I saw it. So that is undoubtedly the very rarest of a species you can have; the very last.”
7) The creature that most obsesses him most…
and grips his affection more than any other, is a human baby, he told the Radio Times in a 2014 interview. “An 18-month-old child is simply riveting, because evolution has evolved that response in us to make sure we protect them,” he added.
8) He names the blackbirds who visit his garden…
albeit in his words ‘unimaginatively’. As he states in the book ‘New Life Stories‘, based on his interviews on Radio 4 in 2011; “I have a blackbird in my garden — a male — who has a white feather in his left wing. I call him, rather unimaginatively, ‘Whitey’ and his arrival, a year ago, transformed my understanding of the dramas and battles that go on in my shrubs and on the bird table. Suddenly I was aware how frequently — or infrequently — one individual bird visited my garden; how often he fed; whether he was likely to win an encounter with another male; whether he was courting; and what his relationships were with others of his own kind.”
9) He’s decorated his home with images of nature…
or at least one room. A sneak peak of his home in the film ‘Great Wildlife Moments‘ shows peacocks on the fire place, leaves and plants on the wall paper and a penny jar plugged with feathers. It’s EXACTLY what I’d hoped for from our biggest wildlife hero!
10) He visited Elsa the lioness of Born Free fame…
and Joy and George Adamson, out in their home in Kora National Park in Kenya. He even had to endure Elsa’s cub Jespah playfully swiping at his legs. He writes of the encounter in the 1960s; “They were certainly playful, but equally, they didn’t seem to know their own strength. Jespah in particular enjoyed playing games. His favourite trick was to hide behind a bush and then charge out as you were passing and take a swipe at your legs”. Ouch.
“When we pay attention to nature’s music, we find that everything on the Earth contributes to its harmony.”
Many of us who spend our lives looking to our planet’s incredible wildlife and nature will know that there’s a truth in the above quote from Hazrat Inayat Khan.
Our natural world is so full of intricate melodies, delicate harmonies and dramatic crescendos — which is why in recent years we’ve seen wonderful composers such as Hans Zimmer creating the breath-taking score of the documentary series Planet Earth II, and the likes of Philip Glass composing for the fascinating docufilm JANE.
Children and wildlife in harmony
Knowing that music, the natural world and human nature are so intrinsically linked, I was delighted to discover an exciting event taking place next Monday – 11 June 2018, which will see a coming together of the wildlife charity Born Free Foundation and internationally acclaimed pianist and conductor Panos Karan (responsible for establishing the charity Keys of Change); in a performance of music written by one of the great masters of Romantic composition, Frederic Chopin; Children and wildlife in harmony.
I’m excited to explore the musical journey as Panos performs Chopin’s 24 formidable and evocative Études. How wonderful to allow Chopin’s delicate thoughtfulness and graceful composition to be the soundtrack to thoughts of the future of our planet.
Panos will also speak about his charity Keys of Change, which uses music to improve the lives of young people living in extraordinary circumstances around the world, and Born Free Foundation President Will Travers OBE will be hosting the evening, while representing Born Free’s Global Friends programme.
The special event has been created to raise funds for both these important charities; the Global Friends programme — which supports schools and communities alongside the charity’s wildlife projects in Africa and Asia — and Keys of Change musical education programmes — which run from Ecuador and the Amazon, to India and tsunami-stricken Fukushima.
Both Keys of Change and Born Free believe that children are the future. Panos Karan, the Founder of Keys of Change, has seen the transformative impact of music and a personal engagement that music can have on individuals. Born Free has seen the same impact when children are encouraged to appreciate, understand and respect nature. What the world needs now is more kindness. And that’s what Keys Of Change and Born Free can deliver.
Helping local communities and wildlife live together…
I imagine Panos commanding the piano to flow between moments of light delicacy, through building layers of emotion, to reach purposeful places of darkness. The kind of emotion and drama that Chopin is synonymous with tells so many stories, that it seems perfectly conceivable that our planet’s delicate balance between human-wildlife conflict and human-wildlife compassion could easily be one of them.
The Global Friends communities supported by Born Free live in locations close to, or surrounded by wildlife. Many children in Global Friends Schools have not had the opportunity to go and see wild animals living in their natural habitat and indeed, some members of the community regard wildlife as a threat.
Born Free work to help find practical solutions to reduce conflict and increase empathy for the thousands of individuals who live in Global Friends communities.
The intention of this exciting event, therefore, is to help Keys Of Change raise the resources it needs to reach to and support traumatised communities while at the same time building and reinforcing the Born Free Global Friends Programme.
According to Born Free President, Will Travers; “Panos has a remarkable story. He is incredibly talented, but not wealthy as he puts his heart and soul into bringing music to people who’ve never had that experience. People in prison, people ten hours up a dirt track from the nearest town, people whose lives have been shattered by disasters like the Fukushima nuclear situation. Born Free also works on the edge – in communities that may not have water, electricity, modern communications, or no more than the occasional vehicle passing through. These are the communities that are getting left behind and that surely cannot be right.”
I love the idea of these two incredible charities coming together as a force for good.
As the force of Chopin’s incredible Études fills the Codogan Hall in London next Monday, I hope to share this experience and global vision with you. It’s my birthday after all — and this sounds like an ideal celebration!
This latest guest blog post was written by the author of ‘Dreaming In Calcutta and Channel Islands’, which recounts the writer’s voluntary ‘zoo checking’ work for the Born Free Foundation in North East India from 1997 to 1999. Shubhobroto, who now works and resides in New Delhi, is also responsible for the Indian Zoo Inquiry, supported by Zoocheck Canada. Originally from Calcutta (Kolkata) and educated in Kolkata, Guwahati (Assam), Jersey, Bangalore and London — Shubhobroto shares this exact from An Investigation of British Zoos: A Journalistic Perspective.
An Investigation of British Zoos: A Journalistic Perspective
It is conceivable and common that people have gardens and spend time pruning their rose bushes in England. But some go further than that. They keep exotic animals and spend time chasing tigers, lions, gorillas and chimpanzees. This remarkable breed of people constitute the private ownership of zoos in UK.
The conservation role of zoos had not arisen until the 1960s and that too only under pressure due the environmental movement egged by pioneers like Rachel Carson and Jacques Cousteau.
1984 was the year when the thought of zoos as benign places of entertainment was seriously challenged in the UK. Pole Pole, an African Elephant that had starred in the film ‘An Elephant Called Slowly’ with Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna died in London Zoo and gave rise to the whole debate on the ethics of keeping animals in zoos.
Pole Pole at London Zoo with Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna
Today even some captive animal institutions like the Cornwall Monkey Sanctuary admit that captivity is harmful for animals. The fact that zoos might actually be awful prisons for animals is revealed by several experts and organisations in UK and around the world that are increasingly questioning the role played by collections of captive animals.
They suggest that zoos in many ways represent a threat to endangered species and are just profit making businesses that have nothing to do with conservation.
Zoos have been around for thousands of years since people started collecting animals as symbols of power or curiosities. Individuals collected animals as status symbols and zoos signified the domination of man over nature. The birth of the ‘modern zoo’ ostensibly changed the ideology behind the concept. Zoos turned into scientific institutions. Or did they?
One of the institutions that exhibited animals during the imperial period was the Tower Menagerie of London. In a 2004 book and TV serial, Daniel Hahn exposes the ghetto conditions in which animals were held at the Tower Menagerie in London from 1235 to 1835.
The imperialistic nature of zoos was also a factor behind the founding of the London Zoo in 1826 by Sir Stamford Raffles. London Zoo collected animals from all imperial outposts during the heyday of the British empire.
With the passage of time and the gradual extinction of the empire, the nature of zoos changed with trusts and charities running collections of animals for public show. Zoos seemingly changed from places of eccentric curiosity and personal whim to rigidly controlled institutions.
But the most famous zoos in UK, Howletts and Jersey, were both started by private individuals to serve their personal aims and whims. Until 1981, when the Zoo Licensing Act was passed, anyone could start a zoo in UK. And since Jersey and Howletts have both done remarkable work due to the eccentricities of their owners, their institutions testify that zoos in UK are very much dictated by priorities set by the people who run them.
Pole Pole prior to his life at London Zoo with Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna
Zoos in UK claim a stake in conservation education and recreation. Animal welfare The death of The elephant Pole Pole made front page headlines in UK and gave rise to Zoo Check, now the Born Free Foundation, which constitutes the biggest challenge to the zoo community in UK.
London Zoo put on a new image after its threatened closure in 1991. ‘Living conservation’ became the theme of London Zoo and as the leader of the British zoo community London Zoo claims that reintroduction of captive zoo animals is one of the main aims of UK zoos. But is reintroduction of zoo animals really successful? Is there a significant commitment on the part of the zoo community to aid reintroduction projects?
With the threatened closure of London Zoo in 1991, these questions mushroomed in Britain. There seemed to be a strong public debate on the ethics of keeping animals in captivity in an urban place like Regent’s Park. In a country like Britain, the anti-zoo movement had already started with the formation of Zoo Check, a campaigning lobby started by actors Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers.
In 1991, as London Zoo languished, Zoo Check flourished. London Zoo survived with generous donations from wealthy businessmen but questions were increasingly being raised if these large sums of money were simply wasted to prolong a worldwide anachronism.
London Zoo’s shaky state of existence was undoubtedly one of the motivating factors in the consideration of this subject as a suitable topic of investigation. Another important factor was the involvement of Western NGOs and zoos in spreading the zoo message in developing countries.
London Zoo had donned a new garb of ”Conservation In Action’ and presented itself as the self-proclaimed bandleader of the British zoo community. British zoos started funding zoo activities in many countries in Asia, including India. But one overriding question remained : why keep animals in captivity in Europe and America from Asia and Africa. One of the reasons given by the western zoo community for conducting captive breeding programmes was that Third World countries are unstable, economically and politically to look after their own animals so for the good of the animals they must be captured and taken to zoos in Europe and America.
People have a lot of fun watching animals in zoos, especially children. Lions roar and monkeys swing and bears pace. But is what we see at zoos a distorted picture? Are the animals a travesty of nature? Do they behave abnormally? Does captivity restrict their lives and cause premature death?
There seems to be a growing body of research suggesting that the behaviour of zoo animals is abnormal and many animals go mad due to the effects of captivity. ‘Stereotypic behaviour’ in zoo animals has become a major issue concerning animals in captivity. In recent years, Dr. Georgia Mason and Ros Clubb of Oxford University have published papers suggesting that large animals like elephants and polar bears suffer in captivity. Their findings have been published in the world’s leading scientific journal, ‘NATURE’. The zoo community however is insistent that these researches are flawed and the papers are sexed up for publicity and dramatic effect.
There are more zoos now in UK than ever before and the Federation Of UK Zoos claims that this is a sign of the failure of the anti-zoo lobby in Britain and everything is fine in zoos. The Federation Of UK zoos also claims that the British zoo community is progressive and is pushing for improvement regardless of the anti-zoo lobby. But perhaps the most striking example of the failure of the British zoo community comes from the Cornwall Monkey Sanctuary in Looe, Cornwall. Specialising in primates, particularly Woolly Monkeys, this institution seems to be the only captive facility in UK that accepts that captivity for animals is insidious and destructive.
This place, started by guitarist Leonard Williams, provides the most stringent criticism of animal captivity from within the captive animal community itself. Animals are held in captivity in Cornwall because they cannot be set free and not because they claim a stake in conservation. This unique zoo, is the subject of the article, A Zoo With a Difference : The Monkey Minds Of Cornwall. This centre shows that animal conservation in captivity in zoos can be questionable at best and — at worst — a con in the name of conservation.
Shubhobroto Ghosh is a former journalist with the Telegraph newspaper whose work has also been published in The Statesman, New York Times, The Hindu , Montreal Serai, BBC, Sanctuary Asia and Nature India online. He is the former coordinator of the Indian Zoo Inquiry project sponsored by Zoocheck Canada and has attended the Principles and Practice Training course at Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. He did his Masters thesis on British zoos at the University of Westminster. He has worked at the Wildlife Trust of India, TRAFFIC India and is currently Wildlife Projects Manager in India for World Animal Protection. He has contributed to several books, including ‘The Jane Effect’, a biographical tribute to Jane Goodall by Marc Bekoff and Dale Peterson and ‘Indira Gandhi : A Life In Nature’ by Jairam Ramesh. He is the author of the book, ‘Dreaming In Calcutta and Channel Islands.’
Pulling away from Kings Cross Station, head lolling against the window of the rickety train, I couldn’t have felt more content. Once in a while you have an experience that will stay with you forever, and for me; a day spent in the big smoke, celebrating big cats was everything I could have asked for and more.
More than just a source of information (though it certainly taught me a lot!), the day was a brilliant coming together of so many things that have brought me to the very place (and person) I am today; like the universe has been quietly watching and listening and chose this very day to drop it’s hints that I’m on the right track.
This was the first ever Big Cat Festival, hosted by Bradt’s travel guides at the Royal Geographical Society in London, and it will hopefully be the first of many…
1. Remembering Christian the lion
Alongside the beautiful, black-maned Cecil, Christian the lion is perhaps the internet’s most famous lion. The re-released footage of him reuniting with former owners John Rendall and Ace Bourke (with a great big lion hug) has been viewed collectively more than 35 million times on YouTube!
The beginning of my personal journey into conservation writing started with two brilliant films of my childhood, which would help foster a lifelong love of animals. The first was Disney’s animated classic, The Lion King, and the second was the 1966 live action depiction of Joy Adamson‘s bestselling book Born Free.
The film Born Free, featuring Virginia McKenna in the role of Joy and her real life husband, Bill Travers, playing Joy’s husband George Adamson would start a movement — eventually resulting in the founding of Born Free Foundation, but first helping to establish George Adamson’s pride.
After successfully releasing Elsa the lioness into the wild, George was tasked with releasing ‘Boy’ — a male lion used in the filming of Born Free — into his Kora reserve in Kenya. Christian, ‘the Harrods lion’, would be flown from London to Kenya to join Boy after a chance encounter between his owners in their aptly named furniture shop ‘Sophisticat’ in Kings Road, Chelsea, and Born Free actors Virginia and Bill; visiting the shop to buy a pine writing desk.
One of Christian’s former owner’s, John Rendall, kicked off the programme of speakers, joined by Christian’s official photographer Derek Cattani. Sharing some incredible photographs of Christian — in both his Chelsea flat and later in Kora with George — gave the audience a chance to delve deeper into the story.
I recently re-watched the documentary ‘The Lion Who Thought He Was People‘, featuring that clip of them reuniting, so getting this further perspective and hearing Derek Cattani’s voice on the experience for the first time was a real treat — and a great introduction to the book that the pair have co-authored, due for release in October. I also spotted George Adamson’s former assistant; Tony Fitzjohn in the audience of this talk, which was an added bonus.
2. BBC Big Cats — behind the scenes
This one is kind of a double-whammy. Along with 5.3 million other viewers, I loved BBC1’s Big Cats series. Learning about lesser known species of small cat — such as Fishing Cats, Margays and Sand Cat’s — and enjoying the amazing standard of wildlife filmmaking that the BBC has become synonymous with — made my frosty Thursday evenings more bearable this past January. So I was delighted to see that Series Producer and Director Gavin Boyland was billed to discuss the series.
Gavin unravelled the series from a filmmaking perspective; showing us how two separate camera buggies were used to film running cheetahs, with the help of a Newton arm and a Phantom Flex camera — which slows down action by 40%. While I’m not very familiar with filmmaking, gaining a simple understanding explained with on-screen examples was a great introduction to behind the scenes of the series.
I was fortunate enough to be attending the event with Tania Esteban, who has worked as Digital Researcher for a number of top BBC series, such as Planet Earth II, Blue Planet II, and — you guessed it — Big Cats; for whom she completed work experience as her first job at the BBC. I interviewed Tania on her career earlier in the year, and learnt so many fascinating things about her involvement with the Iberian Lynx segment of the series, so it was pretty special to share this experience with her.
Who better to visit Big Cat Festival with than Producer and Director of A Lion’s Tale, Tania Esteban
A brilliant take-home from this talk was that accompanying social media can sometimes be seen wider than the series itself.
I was surprised to hear that in a programme titled ‘Big Cats’, it was the small cats that stole the show — and social media played it’s part in elevating the small cats’ stories. Gavin explained that the below clip showing ‘the world’s deadliest cat’ (with a kill rate of 60%) has been viewed more 58 million times!
3. Cheetahs and HRH Princess Michael of Kent
HRH Princess Michael of Kent‘s fascinating connection with cheetahs is something I knew very little of before Bradt’s Big Cat Festival. But following the event, her book ‘A Cheetah’s Tale‘ is now top of my wishlist.
Discussing her first trip to Africa to visit her father’s farm, Princess Michael’s stories of camping on safari, eating a snake her father had accidentally run over and inadvertently smuggling a puppy across the border were utterly charming and completely captivating tales.
Giving a short history of how cheetah’s were used for hunting purposes by members of high society in India in the 1800s, Her Royal Highness explained that cheetahs have a high kill rate, at 50% (though still not as high as number 4’s African Black Footed Cat!)..
A great takeaway from this talk was hearing about her projects to raise baby cheetahs and re-release them back into the wild. I was also intrigued to hear about her collaborations with Laurie Marker of Cheetah Conservation Fund. Laurie uses Anatolian Shepherd Dogs to help conserve wild cheetah numbers — achieved by using the dogs to guard livestock, which in turn reduces the number of cheetahs killed by people for taking down their valuable cattle.
Watch the above video for full highlights.
4. The Big Cat People — Living with The Marsh Pride lions
Anyone who reads my blog regularly will know I’m a huge fan of The Big Cat People, Jonathan and Angela Scott. In fact, during my high school days I was so inspired by BBC’s Big Cat Diaries, I began my own handwritten and personally illustrated Big Cat project — which ended up being 200 pages long! Some 15 years later, stories of the Marsh Pride still have the ability to inspire awe and wonder.
With Jonathan at the helm, weaving through stories of this magnificent pride and their neighbours; the Ridge Pride (which today contains relatives of the Marsh Pride) — it was fascinating to hear of developments in recent times. How the original Marsh Pride contained 15 to 30 lions, but how today’s prides are smaller. How they get active around 5pm; how they mate around 1,500 times for every cub that’s born. How, like dogs, they have very few sweat glands. And how lion’s are not lazy — they’re just being lions.
All the while, Angie’s photography shines like a beacon above him, in an unusually darkened room (after the pair insist on a complete blackout, to allow the photography on display to really speak). Dramatic photographs of leopards (the big cat that Jonathan originally went to Africa to pursue), cubs, lion prides, a heavily scarred male, chipped teeth protruding out from a scarred lip and aged mane filled the screen. It’s beautiful and powerful, and so utterly distant from the reality of my chair in a dark room in London’s South Kensington.
Jonathan later joined a panel discussion on ‘the future of Big Cats’.
A somewhat shocking revelation from this talk was that females have been observed eating the remains of their own cubs following episodes of infanticide — where males who have newly taken over a pride kill the existing cubs to bring the females to heat sooner. As Jonathan quotes; “If lions could speak, we probably wouldn’t understand them.”
Perhaps a more recognisable instinct, however, was his explanation of how females with new litters often attack males; even the father of their cubs — a distrust born of the fact the male has likely killed one of her previous litters at the start of his reign.
It was great to catch up with Jonathan Scott after his talk
Before wrapping up, Jonathan announced a new series from himself and Angie, created by an Australian production company. How exciting! Although little more could be said on that for now, a thought-provoking parting message was that there is a counter argument against the kind of wondrous wildlife photography we’d just been treated to: that it makes people think there are more animals and wild spaces than there actually are.
I feel like that statement may be worth an entire discussion all of it’s own, but a quickly offered antidote was that it inspires people to care about the big, charismatic mammals; “and if you take care of big, charismatic mammals, you take care of everything else.”
5. The haul: Big Cat stalls and Bradt’s goody bags
The brilliant thing about the stalls at Big Cat Festival was that there was only a handful — so you really had the time to find your way around them. A host of brilliant books were on sale from Bradt — many of which had been discussed throughout the day; as well as information on Nambian-based charities Cheetah Conservation Fund and Africat; travel information from Exodus Travel, Travel Africa magazine and Kenya Airways — who even had a Born Free Elsa plush on their stand (see below) — and Swarovski Opik showcased some high quality binoculars.
It was inventible that I would leave with at least one new book, given I’m an avid collector of wildlife and natural history books, but I wasn’t expecting to get quite the bargain I ended up with! I took advantage of a half price offer on the stunning photography book Sacred Nature by Jonathan and Angela Scott, and was delighted to find a free copy of the book A Summer of British Wildlife in our goody bags.
A Summer of British Wildlife is designed for use as a 100-day guide to wildlife spotting over the summer; so I’m very excited to explore its recommendations.
Pictured above is my haul from the event — information pamphlets, early book previews, vouchers, magazines and more — I can’t wait to see what Big Cat Festival has in store next year!
Learn more about big cats
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It’s so important in the field of conservation to share our message. Not just with those already connected to nature and the issues faced by our local and global wild species, but also those who may encounter wildlife in a different context.
This past month I was invited to be featured as part of a Blogger Showcase series for a parent blog and chosen for a Youth Nature Spotlight slot on one of my favourite blogs about British wildlife — a great opportunity to share some of my goals and motivations!
Common by Nature — Spotlight
It was an honour to be interviewed by James Common of Common by Nature blog and recognised as a member of the youth nature movement. Similarly to Kate on Conservation, Common by Nature has been Highly Commended at the UK Blog Awards under the Green & Eco category, and was also listed in the 75 Top Wildlife Blogs — coming a few places above me at number 1!
In James’ own words; “the youth nature spotlight series is intended to give readers an insight into the lives, aspirations and motivations of the intrepid and inspirational young people doing great things for nature in the UK”, so I was very excited to get involved.
I’ve included a small snippet of the interview below, as a little taster:
How did you first get involved in your conservation campaigning?
For as long as I can remember I’ve been interested in animals. This interest was developed into a more active conservation role when I became a supporter of the Born Free Foundation. At six years old I received a gift of an adoption pack for Born Free’s for Roque the tiger and I’ve wanted to save animals ever since then. 21 years later I am now a trustee of the Born Free Foundation charity and the subsequent passion I fostered for wildlife photography and conservation writing (which can be traced back to a 200-page big cat project I hand wrote when I was 10 and 11 years old), has evolved into my career at National Geographic Kids magazine and my Kate On Conservation blog.
If you won the lottery today, what would you spend the money on?
I would buy a big plot of land in the UK and work on rewilding it. Bringing back native flora and fauna and hopefully watching it flourish – and I’d buy an allotment for growing seasonal fruit and veg. I would then start up an education programme, offering opportunities to people from all walks of life to work on these projects and learn about the UK’s natural environment and sustainable food consumption. Hopefully, it would start a movement.
I also had the pleasure of chatting to parent blogger and fellow UK Blog Awardsfinalist, Every Treasure. I saw it as a brilliant opportunity to talk to others who appreciate the outdoors and enjoy family hiking trips (subjects regularly covered on Every Treasure) about the wildlife they encounter — and equally, some more exotic species — about why it is important to take notice of our impact on the planet.
It was great to have the opportunity to answer the interesting questions that blogger Kelly had picked out to ask. I’ve included a couple of these below, to give a snapshot of the interview:
Can you tell me a little bit about the focus/vision/ethos behind your blog?
I wanted to change the world. Maybe one person at a time, by sharing important knowledge about our planet’s wildlife and the threats it’s facing. I was 21-years old when I started the blog and originally it was to be a voice among young people and students, to inspire them to care about these things. I wanted to speak as a peer, so they wouldn’t feel patronised and I was specifically using my gap year experience of volunteering in South Africa with Born Free to inform the blog. But I’m not that young anymore and thanks to television series like Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II, I think students care more than ever. So now I try to reach all people of all ages through various means. And I still want to change the world.
What keeps you motivated in everyday life and in the blogging world?
The desperate plight of so many of our planet’s wild species. When you hear that there are less than 20,000 lions left in the wild in Africa; that if things remain as they are, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050; and when in 2018 we all lost the last ever male Northern White Rhino in existence — it’s enough to motivate me to spend the rest of my life trying to make a difference.
A couple of years ago when I was employed by Discovery, I worked on UK school resources to accompany the amazing documentary Racing Extinction. Researching the facts and watching that documentary was the reason I stopped eating meat and consuming dairy products. That documentary is something I return to when I’m in need of a little motivation. It’s shocking and so important!
Thank you so much to these brilliant bloggers for sharing their platform. Only by working together can we make our voices louder in the so-called ‘blogosphere’! And on that note, don’t forget to check out my latest guest blog posts, for more fascinating stories and voices!
It’s no secret that I’m a lover of reading. So it was a real treat when first time author and all-round animal lover Cheryl Aguiar sent me a copy of her award-winning nature book, which chronicles herexperience of observing a family of great horned owls and finding herself part of a rescue mission to save their two young owlets.
A modern day ‘Pocahontas’, Cheryl’s draw to nature and the great outdoors is a deep-rooted desire that certainly resonates. As does her compassion to help wildlife, one animal at a time.
Kate on Conservation with author Cheryl Aguiar’s Great Horned Owlets Rescue book
Great Horned Owlets Rescue: Where There’s A Will, There’s a Way details Cheryl’s early encounters with wildlife in the woods where she grew up, and explains how these experiences — including rescuing a newborn baby rabbit and nursing it back to health as a child — inspired her later fascination with animals.
“Throughout the years, my love for wildlife continued to grow, along with many attempts at saving anything from small birds to tiny frogs”, Cheryl writes. “Some were successful and some were not, but I always tried to give them a fighting chance.”
I must admit, I knew very little about the Great Horned Owl before reading this book. Found throughout North America and Canada, these large raptors have bright yellow eyes and distinctive feather ear tufts, which combined with their deep sounding hoots, make them the perfect storybook owl.
Through Cheryl’s tales of her daily (and weekly) visits to the owl family, I was able to learn fascinating facts about their diet (which consists of small animals; rodents, lizards, insects); how, and when, they are fed by their parents; the different stages of their maturity (i.e. when they lose their down feathers, when they leave the nest, etc.) and the challenges they face in their natural environment.
This charming tale takes readers on a journey of the highs and lows that Cheryl, husband Jim, her nearby Aunt and Uncle and close neighbours who share their woods, experience when high April winds bring down the gradually depleted nest that the young owlets have been hatched into.
Their affectionately named parents; Mama and Papa, like many great horned owls, chose to reuse an old nest — possibly built by hawks a year or so previously — and in this instance, it wasn’t up to the job!
Fortunately, Cheryl springs to action to save the little owlets, who find themselves alone and vulnerable on the forest floor as the last light of day is fading.
With her afore mentioned team of rescuers and the expert advice of seasoned pro and founder of Eyes On Owls in Dunstable, Massachusetts; Mark, she is able to give the little owls a fighting chance (and a brand new basket nest!). And so begins this beautiful and dedicated chapter of her life.
Great Horned Owlets Rescue by Cheryl Aguiar
An enjoyable read and a great source of information (for example, I had no idea that owl feathers are not waterproof, to enable them to be silent flyers), this is a cute little read and a great way to connect with nature.
To learn more about about Cheryl Aguiar, order her book or view her wildlife photography, click here.