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Chris Packham Interview: Are we losing our connection with creepy crawlies?

This summer, Chris Packham helped Intu shopping centres launch their ‘Big Bugs on tour’ initiative, which aims to bring more than 30 million shoppers back to nature. Shocking research by Intu revealed that children are better at identifying Pokémon characters than British wildlife, sparking the idea to unleash 12 super-sized, indigenous bugs on intu shopping centres nationwide.

Chris Packham interacts with a 7ft long lifelike model of a Swallowtail Caterpillar and a Hornet at the launch of Big Bugs on Tour at intu Lakeside

Photo credit: Matt Alexander/intu

Now, before you start envisaging live critters worthy of horror movies (anyone says ‘super-sized bug’ and immediately picture Jeff Goldblum turning into a fly…), I can assure you these enormous insects are family-friendly models — and are pretty cool to look at. (NB: I’m not saying Goldblum’s fly isn’t cool to look at. It’s just these creepy crawlies are less… creepy).

Having opened at intu Lakeside in July, before moving to 12 further locations over the next year, the displays aim to help fill in the blanks when it comes to our nation’s knowledge of bugs.

I was shocked to learn that one in six children (16%) have not seen a single bug for six months, while 25% have not seen a caterpillar in over a year.

Perhaps even more surprisingly though, especially given the recent focus on the importance of bees as their numbers have declined; is that the study revealed that 21% of children were unable to correctly identify a bee while 10% did not know honey came from bees!

Unfortunately, adults did not fare much better in the study, with one in four unable to tell the difference between a bee and a wasp and an equal 25% unable to correctly identify a grasshopper!

 

Q&A with Chris Packham

“More needs to be done to reconnect people with nature and Big Bugs on tour is a fantastic initative to wake people up to the importance of nature in our lives.” Chris Packham explained in our recent interview.

A real life Azure damselfly, one of the big bug species that will be going on tour

I used the opportunity to take a look back into his own childhood, and the bugs that he encountered — and why they’ve made this an issue close to his heart.

Kate on Conservation: Why is the Big Bugs on tour campaign important? What are you hoping it will inspire parents and children to do?

Chris Packham: Hats off to intu, because they are shining the light on indigenous bugs and encouraging kids to connect with nature and explore the wildlife in their garden. I love Big Bugs on tour because it’s not only impressive with the size and accuracy of the bugs, but also a very imaginative way to engage with customers about wildlife and also reaching an audience that we wouldn’t necessarily speak to on Spring Watch.

I also like how they are working with schools to get them in centres and face-to-face with all the bugs, and learn to appreciate not just the pretty ones like butterflies and ladybirds, but the crawly ones which are equally important in our ecosystem.

K: Do you have any memories of encountering bugs as a child?

C: The front gate of my parents’ house had a bush which was the home to lots of different coloured ladybirds, which I would catch by standing on the wall. 

K: Why is it good for children to explore the bug life in their garden?

C: It’s really important for kids to explore the bug life in their garden because it’s been proven that being connected to nature makes you happier. New research from intu shopping centres found that 67% of people said that being connected to nature makes you happier, but one in six kids have not seen a bug in six months.

K: What might they find looking in the garden for insects?

C: Lots of exciting things! For kids, the first safari they do is in their garden, from my opinion. Kids can find everything from ladybirds, bees, beetles such as the stag beetle, all of which are on display at intu’s Big bugs on tour.

K: What is your favourite bug? And why?

C: Hornet – they are fantastic insect predators. They are misunderstood though, it’s easy to live alongside them. 

Big Bugs on tour; and when to catch them!

Intu’s campaign to reconnect kids and adults to nature comes as reports show children are now better at identifying Pokemon characters than British wildlife, despite a £10 million pledge from the Government to encourage children to get closer to nature.

big bugs on tour intu shopping centres

Over 35 million people shop at intu centres every year, so Roger Binks, customer experience director for intu, hopes that bringing them face-to-face with these giant British bugs “can make a real impact in how they interact and reconnect with nature, and ensure they are happier than when they arrived.”

One of the most encouraging conclusions from the study showed that 78% of parents want their children to be more connected to nature (86% thought their children spent too much time looking at screens), with nearly half (49%) saying they are worried about the decline in insects, but didn’t know how to help.

Bee hotels

I’d suggest creating a bee or bug hotel (find out how here), or planting flowering, bee-friendly plants in the garden would be a good start (as well as avoiding using any pesticides and bug killing chemicals!).

Hopefully this can help with the very sad news that over a third of adults say they see far fewer bugs in their gardens now than five years ago.

The 12 British bugs being exhibited across Intu shopping centres nationwide between now and September 2019 are:

  1. Azure damselfly
  2. Black ant
  3. Honeybee
  4. Hornet
  5. Ladybird
  6. Meadow grasshopper
  7. Swallowtail butterfly
  8. Swallowtail caterpillar
  9. Nut weevil
  10. Rose chafer beetle
  11. Stag beetle
  12. Greater water boatman

For more information go to: www.intu.co.uk/BigBugshttp://www.intu.co.uk/BigBugs.

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World Elephant Day: A call to end adverts for cruel elephant attractions

This week concludes with World Elephant Day and its global focus on the protection of the African Savannah elephant, the African Forest elephant and the Asian elephant. For wildlife charity Save The Asian Elephant (STAE), the week also started with a huge push to try and secure the future of elephants.

On Monday (6 August) I joined Vegan podcaster Evanna Lynch (aka Harry Potter’s Luna Lovegood) and one of my blog readers, the lovely Annabel Lever (who’s been helping out at the Nat Geo Kids‘ office this week), outside 10 Downing Street as STAE staff, trustees, volunteers and supporters gathered to deliver a petition to Prime Minister Theresa May calling for a ban on advertising and promotion of elephant-related tourist activities.

STAE Founder Duncan McNair, celebrity animal activists Peter Egan and Rula Lenska and STAE trustee Stanley Johnson were among the crowd gathered to deliver STAE’s Change.org petition of more than 200,000 signatories and over 2.6 million further petition signatures aligning with it, calling on the UK Government to take an active role in saving the highly endangered Asian elephants.

You may have seen my earlier blog post on the dangers that Asian elephants face in their native homes. Astonishingly, the surviving population of Asian elephants is barely 5% of that of African elephants — with a huge decline from estimates of a million or more in the late 19th century to scarcely 40,000 today! (Around 10,000 of these are captive). You can revisit that post here.

Elephant expert Ian Redmond OBE (pictured above), who’s also an ambassador for vEcotourism — which looks to promote virtual reality tourism over tourist practices which may be harmful to the native wildlife — is a trustee for STAE and was keen to support delivery of the petition.

Most holidaymakers are unaware that many elephants have been captured from the wild, trained through fear and beaten into continuing their work: often carrying heavy loads of 2-4 tourists on metal seats on their backs. Their tusks (only present on male Asian elephants) are often blunted with chainsaws; the ends removed in a stressful and terrifying ordeal.

The team from STAE also presented an open letter to the Prime Minister, explaining how a recent poll revealed large support for STAE’s policies.

The Asian elephant, which has been classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) since 1986, faces a bigger threat from the tourist industry then it does the ivory trade, as a lifetime of tourist rides are more lucrative than the one-off sale of its ivory.

Evanna Lynch and Duncan McNair, who recently visited Kerala in partnership with The Sun to raise awareness of the Asian elephants’ plight, emerged from Downing Street to applause from the crowd after delivering their message. According to a recent press release from STAE, their aim was to assert the following actions…

I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Evanna for National Geographic Kids’, about the importance of World Elephant Day, and why she’s proud to be a STAE ambassador. I was so impressed by her love and passion for elephants, and would definitely recommend reading the full interview here.

STAE supporters present at the event wore t’shirts highlighting the need to ban the process used to crush elephants’ spirit, supposedly making them more suitable for ‘working with tourists’. The breaking in process, known as “pajan” ends in the death of 50% of the elephants it intends to domesticate. It is also used to make elephants more suitable for use in festivals; something STAE has previously campaigned against.

To join STAE’s campaign this #WorldElephantDay, or add your signature to their petition, visit: stae.org

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Remembering Dr Alan Rabinowitz: A voice for the voiceless

Dr Alan Rabinowitz, the jaguar hero dubbed ‘the Indiana Jones of wildlife conservation’, sadly passed away on 5 August 2018.

Alan’s career as a conservationist, specialising in big cats (predominantly the jaguar), spanned more than three decades, and his passion for creating a safer world for these incredible cats lives on through his charity Panthera.

Alan Rabinowitz - jaguar journey

Dr Rabinowitz on his epic ‘Journey of the Jaguar’. Photo by Veronica Domit Photography

In ancient Aztec mythology, the spirit of the jaguar is an indomitable, mystic force — the jaguar was see as the ‘master of animals’, and the spiritual lord of the powers of fertility in the natural world.

When I spoke to Dr Alan in August last year, he was part-way through a mission titled ‘Jaguar journey‘, to walk the spine of the Jaguar corridor he had personally secured for the big cats. While I’m terribly sad to hear that Alan will not complete his journey, I strongly believe that his equally indomitable spirit lives on in the jaguars whose very existence depends on them freely walking those protected corridors to mate and diversify the species’ genetics. Perhaps it’s not hard to imagine that in many ways, his spirit has already touched all of the many pathways that span the Jaguar corridor.

 

***Reblogged from October 2017***

Jaguar journey: Alan Rabinowitz and saving a species

 

The jaguar; a most elusive, yet powerful big cat. Stealthy and strong, it hunts like a true warrior, yet lives almost like a phantom; ghost-like in the rainforests of South America.

Compared to the prolific press that Africa’s big cats — the lion, leopard and cheetah — are granted, the jaguar is rarely seen gracing the covers of magazines, receiving week-long coverage on prime time BBC broadcast slots, or taking centre stage in its own feature-length docufilm.

Despite being the world’s third largest cat, possessing such iconic features as its beautiful rosette-covered coat and bone-crushing jaws (the largest of any big cat), the magnificent jaguar and its vulnerability to the continued threat of deforestation remains a largely unsung story.

But for the last 30 years, one man has made it his mission to save these big cats. Dr Alan Rabinowitz, Chief Scientist at Panthera and the man who established the world’s first jaguar reserve, is himself somewhat of an overlooked entity here in the UK…

 

Discovering the jaguar

Some time in my teens, when I would rush home from high school to try and catch as many wildlife documentaries on National Geographic Channel as possible before the 6 o’clock news and the firmly established family TV time that followed; I fell in love with jaguars.

The Nat Geo documentary that first piqued my interest in the big cat was titled ‘In Search of the Jaguar’. The film followed the story of Dr Rabinowitz — and showcased his quest to a secure 5,000 mile pathway for the jaguar to move from Mexico to Argentina.

The protected pathway would be an invaluable conservation effort to allow the big cats to move freely and diversify their genes.

In search of the jaguar - jaguar journey

Shockingly, estimates at the time (around 2006) suggested that one and a half billion acres of jaguar habitat had been taken by man, leaving the surviving population isolated in small pockets. Back then, it had also recently been discovered that all jaguars shared the same DNA — so a method of sewing together these pockets was necessary to allow movement for more diverse breeding.

Known as the ‘Jaguar Corridor’, the pathway — spanning 18 countries — is intoxicatingly referred to as a ‘necklace’ in the documentary, and each potential new territory sourced by Rabinowitz is referred to as a ‘gem in that necklace’.

The imagery of the emerald forests of Brazil, the burning amber flashes of the elusive jaguar slinking in and out of view and this elaborate necklace of geographical gems has always made it stick in my mind.

That and the fact that Rabinowitz was himself fighting against the odds of a serious illness during this film; yet choosing his quest to save the jaguar over slowing down to save himself.

 

Intermission

As the formidable jungle cat slips in and out of view in its rainforest habitat in real life; so my interest in jaguars has slipped in and out of my consciousness over recent times.

In the years that followed my initial discovery of wildlife warrior Rabinowitz, I would read countless stories and memoirs about people who had entwined their lives with African big cats. I would come to understand the complex social structures of lion prides and marvel at the cuteness of baby cheetahs on BBC’s Big Cat Diaries; I’d even end up travelling to South Africa to see how these big cats find ways to share a continent, and catch a fleeting glimpse of a lone leopard on the horizon. But the Latin American jaguar; this most mystic and spiritual of cats would remain a quiet, secretive, yet powerfully present interest of mine.

Towards the end of last year, exactly 10 years after first viewing ‘In Search of the Jaguar’ I took a chance on following the big cat myself. Perhaps not in quite the same way as Dr Rabinowitz and his team, but through my own journey.

Historically, these animals are interwoven in ancient civilisation as mystic creatures of great spirituality; prowlers of ancient imaginations, paid testament to through elaborate carvings and etched onto the walls of temples: their spirituality and strength make them an iconic feline.

jaguar temple statue

It is perhaps this very spirituality and strength then, that guided me at the end of last year.

Picking up a copy of National Geographic Kids magazine’s September issue, I took in the beautiful jaguar image staring back at me from the cover and flicked through the copy, taking note of facts about jaguars snatching up prey, such as caiman and capybaras, by uniquely using the winding tributaries of the Amazon basin to their advantage.

Poring over information about their skull crunching canines and their skilful swimming abilities rarely seen in big cats, I used the article as my main preparation for chasing down a job at this most esteemed of natural history media brands. I referenced the article several times in my job interview for the publication; and after a securing a second meeting, I was offered a job at the company.

Within my first few weeks, I was tasked with researching jaguar facts for a promotional ‘jungle survival guide’, which would be released with National Geographic publications across the globe, in many different languages. My first real project with the company, and it featured jaguars!

National geographic lego expedition jungle guide

If signs come in threes, the next one definitely felt like one worth seeing — or rather, listening to. When one of my new colleagues recommended listening to a podcast called RadioLab, as it featured and in-depth look at trophy hunting for rhino horn, it didn’t take long for me to look around and find an episode about zoos.

I was curious to see the journalists’ handling of the issues surrounding captivity, and shocked at the coincidence that, quite unexpectedly, the final segment in the broadcast featured one Dr Alan Rabinowitz (a name I had first heard through Nat Geo many years ago); tracing his life’s work back to being a child, and encountering a lone jaguar in the Big Cat House at the Bronx Zoo

The powerful RadioLab story (which can be listened to by clicking on the player link above) focusses on why Rabinowitz connected so much with the jaguar (owing to a severe stutter throughout his childhood, which left him feeling voiceless — a symptom he could recognise in the pitiful yowling of the Bronx Zoo’s jaguar).

The severity of Rabinowitz’ stutter was barely touched upon in that earlier Nat Geo documentary, so hearing about the extremity of the speech disorder and the impact it had on the course of Alan’s life gave a whole new dimension to the story; and a whole new perspective on his connection to the jaguar.

The coincidence of re-discovering a human-wildlife story that had fascinated me so much as a teenager, and learning of such a significant side of the story — the influence of communicating with animals on learning to overcome a stutter — certainly reignited my interest in finding out what has happened to the jaguar population now, and how Rabinowitz’ all-important ‘Jaguar Corridor’ has made a difference.

 

Jaguar journey

In Search of the Jaguar ends with a tantalising concept: “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an overwhelming challenge? For this wildlife warrior, that chapter has yet to be written…”

Just over a decade on, it’s safe to say that that next chapter is an exciting one! Dr Rabinowitz is now Chief Scientist of Panthera; founded in 2006 as the only organisation in the world that is devoted exclusively to the conservation of the world’s 40 wild cat species (including tigers, lions, jaguars, snow leopards,cheetahs, pumas and leopards) and their ecosystems.

The Panthera Team take on the formidable forests of the jaguar’s range – on foot! Photo by: Veronica Domit Photography

Along with Dr Howard Quigley, Head of Panthera’s Jaguar Program, Alan is currently undertaking a three-year quest to journey by foot(!) through the 10 counties that make up the spine of his now well-established 18-country ‘Jaguar Corridor’, sharing his experience along the way of the progress being made—  and of course the jaguars he encounters!

On their journey deep into the jaguar’s range, together with Panthera’s scientists and partners, they hope to continue to shine a light on the developments in the jaguar’s population and range, as well as the challenges in places where jaguars are most at risk — so that they can continue to develop and implement global strategies to best protect the cat.

I’ve signed up to ‘join the journey’ and receive regular updates about the team’s progress and was delighted to read about the efforts to explore the powerful cultural connections that locals have to Latin America’s iconic big cat.

‘The Journey of the Jaguar is showing that humans and jaguars are coexisting’ one of their most recent email newsletters reads.

This sounds like an incredible achievement when there is often so much conflict between local populations and predators (such as in the case of last year’s poisoning of multiple lions from the Maasai Mara’s Marsh pride).

I contacted Dr Rabinowitz to find out more about his experience and how the local people are able to live alongside the big cat, when so often predators are seen as a threat.

“My best experience has been to see the enthusiasm of local people and local governments to the idea of an integrated jaguar corridor,” Alan explains.

“Also to see local people feel strongly about wanting to bring jaguar culture back into the lives of their children and the schools.”

Hearing of the desire to educate local children about the beauty and importance of jaguars as part of their learning in the classroom is immediately something that resonates with me.

“I realise more than ever that the future rests in the hands of the young,” Alan continues. “My hopes are that this journey creates a permanent platform and a permanent movement for saving the jaguar, saving jaguar culture, and making sure that the world’s third largest cat does not go down the road of the tiger, lion and leopard.”

And for a man who has faced (and overcome) so many challenges in his life, what has been the hardest part of the jaguar journey so far?

“The worst experiences, as always, are to see dead animals.” he tells me.“Jaguar skins, jaguar teeth, and other animal parts. And learn of the fear some people still have about jaguars.”

Leaving a legacy…

R.i.P Dr Alan Rabinowitz. A true life hero of conservation. Continue supporting the Panthera team at: panthera.org and The Stuttering Foundation, which was of course is an organisation close to Alan.

 

 

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King update: Born Free’s rescued lion cub starts a new life

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 the lion at Shamwari

King at Shamwari

That is the story of beautiful King the lion. Now successfully re-homed by International wildlife charity Born 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.

Born free foundation's king the lion cub

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.

Born Free Foundation elsa toy on kenya airways stall

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.

King the lion returns home to Africa

“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?

Please consider supporting Born Free’s petition to restrict the trade in, and private keeping of, dangerous wild animals in Great Britain: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/221050

To donate to King’s lifetime care, visit www.bornfree.org.uk/king, call 01403 240170 or text KING to 70755 to donate £10.

 

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The Dominant Male: Guest post by young conservationist Bella Lack

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…

orangutan looks on with a solemn expression

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.

Orangutan anger!

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.

Blog post first published on www.callfromthewild.com.

 

Bella Lack born free ambassadorBella 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 AppShe 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

 

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Bringing British wildlife to schoolchildren: badgers, foxes and 30 Days Wild

June is possibly my favourite month. Aside from being my birthday month (28 this year!), it also means 30 Days Wild — a celebration of British wildlife!

Every day for the last month, I’ve been taking on the Wildlife Trust’s challenge; to do something ‘wild’ each day in June. This has meant discovering some wonderful places; including WildlifeTrust‘s Tewin OrchardWoodland Trust‘s Heartwood Forest (Hertfordshire), Suffolk Wildlife Trust‘s Lackford Lakes and RSPB Minsmere Nature Reserve (Suffolk). I even had the honour of judging a photography competition at British Trust for Ornithology‘s Nunnery Lakes Reserve (Norfolk).

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 findings here 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!

Two-Badgers-at-Tewin-Orchard-Hertfordshire

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.

Fox-and-Badgers-Tewin-Orchard-Hertfordshire

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-a-Brtish-wildlife-assembly-at-East-Harling-Primary-School

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. 

Boris-the-badger-East-Harling-Primary-School-assembly

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-in-classes-at-East-Harling-Primary-School

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-Dyer-assembly-East-Harling-primary-school

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!

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10

Save the kiwi: Old Mout Cider’s mission to save New Zealand’s national bird

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 at night time in new zealand

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 with kiwi and lime Old Mout Cider

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.

Kiwi bird close up

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!

Signing up to the #SaveTheKiwi mission only takes a minute and is completely free. You can sign up too, and instantly raise 20p for Kiwis for kiwi here: https://www.oldmoutcider.co.uk/help-save-the-kiwi

 

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7

5 things that made Bradt’s Big Cat Festival amazing!

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.

Kate on Conservation holds bradt's big cat festival guide

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.

John Rendall shows George Adamson's photo at Christian the lion's legacy talk at Big Cat Festival

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.

John Rendall Christian the lion's legacy at Big Cat Festival

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.

Kate on Conservation and Tania Esteban

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.

cheetahs tale book by princess michael of kent

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.

Jonathan-Scott-the-big-cat-people-talk

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'.

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.

Jonathan Scott and Kate on Conservation at Big Cat Festival

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.

Born Free Foundation elsa toy on kenya airways stall

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.

Big Cat Festival goody bag and book purchases

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!

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2

Great Horned Owlets Rescue: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way!

Great horned owlets, Willow and Wisdom - Photo by Cheryl Aguiar

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 her experience 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 holds Great Horned Owlets Rescue book

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.

Great horned owlet, Willow - Photo by Cheryl Aguiar

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 book by Cheryl Aguiar

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.

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4

Shocking reality of exotic pet trade exposed by Paris lion cub pet!

It’s hard to imagine the unstoppable, untameable force of the lion fitting into a tiny cage in private home. But King the lion cub found himself trapped in such a scenario. A victim of the illegal exotic pet trade, he was rescued from an apartment in Paris after shocking social media footage showed his captor beating the tiny cub.

Born free foundation's king the lion cub

King made international headlines in October last year, when he was found half-starved and cowering in a dirty cage in an abandoned apartment in Paris.

Just a few months old and kept illegally as an exotic pet, he had been beaten and kicked by his owner who then posted videos of the abuse online.

It’s hard to imagine such a shocking case can exist so close to home, and the thought of living near by to someone with a pet lion sounds like something that would only happen decades ago — but the latest research by international wildlife charity Born Free has revealed more than 292 dangerous wild cats – including at least nine lions – are being kept privately, and legally, in Great Britain under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976.

The growing demand for wild animals to be kept as exotic pets worldwide is fuelled by both the legal and illegal wildlife trade. The illegal trade alone is worth an estimated $23 billion US dollars a year!

These wild species may be captive-bred, sourced from zoos and circuses or wild-caught, and they are sold through various means — such as online, in pet shops, trade fairs, markets and directly through breeders.

In response to King’s story, Born Free, has launched an urgent appeal to rehome King to its big cat sanctuary at Shamwari Game Reserve — a place I was fortunate enough to volunteer at many years ago — in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.

 

#LongLiveTheKing from Born Free Foundation on Vimeo.

King has left the building

Fortunately, King was rescued from his cruel captor — who was later tracked down, arrested and charged — by French animal rescue charities Fondation 30 Million d’Amis and Refuge de l’Arche.

King has now been given a temporary home at Natuurhulpcentrum rescue centre, in Belgium, and Born Free plans to transport him from Belgium to South Africa, where he will be given a permanent home at their long-established big cat sanctuary at Shamwari. The sanctuary is already home to 16 lions and leopards rescued from appalling captive conditions.

King’s new life at Born Free’s big cat sanctuary will be a world away from the Paris apartment in which he was discovered. He will be given lifetime care in a spacious, safe and natural environment, surrounded by the beautiful sights and sounds of Africa.

King, in Belgium, awaiting a ‘forever home’ at Shamwari’s big cat sanctuary

He was born free, he should live free

I have always been a huge supporter of Born Free Foundation, who strongly oppose the keeping of wild animals as pets. Wild animals have complex social, physical and behavioural needs and are, therefore, particularly susceptible to welfare problems when kept as pets.

“Whether wild-caught or captive-bred, wild animals retain their wild instincts and their often complex social, behaviour and environmental needs: needs that are impossible to meet in a domestic environment,” Born Free’s Head of Animal Welfare & Captivity, Dr Chris Draper explains.

“It is high time that we stop viewing exotic wild animals simply as objects to own, and start considering their welfare — and the risks they may sometimes pose to us. It should be abundantly clear that the never-ending demand for increasingly exotic and dangerous wild animals in the pet trade needs to stop.”

Born free king campaign letters

As ever, perhaps the most impassioned voice comes from Born Free Co-Founder and Trustee, Virginia McKenna OBE:
“Have we learned nothing over the years? How can we not understand that keeping wild animals in cages is not just cruel, but shameful? Lions are known as kings of the jungle.”
“This little king, sadly, will never wear his crown, but at least we can give him love and respect and a natural environment to roam and rest in. That is the least he deserves, and I hope people will help us write a happy ending to this story.””
To donate to this cause, visit www.bornfree.org.uk/king, call 01403 240170 or text KING to 70755 to donate £10.

 

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