Deadly decline

Africa’s elephants are in crisis. Kenya Airways’ partner in conservation, the Born Free Foundation, has launched a special 30th anniversary appeal to save them

ConservationEles2014 is a very special year for Born Free. It is the Foundation’s 30th anniversary. That’s 30 years of wild animal conservation, protection, rescue and care. From humble beginnings, Born Free has grown into a global force for wildlife, taking action worldwide to protect threatened species and stop individual animal suffering.

The Foundation has a fascinating and unique history. In 1966 the founders, Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers, starred in the classic film Born Free, telling the remarkable true story of Elsa the lioness and George and Joy Adamson’s battle to return her to the wild. The story was enjoyed by tens of millions around the globe, inspiring a generation and changing the world’s attitude to wildlife forever.

After Born Free, Bill Travers began producing wildlife films including An Elephant Called Slowly in 1969. Also set in Kenya, it featured Pole Pole (‘Po-lee Po-lee’), an elephant calf. Caught in the wild as a gift to London Zoo from the Kenyan Government at the time, she was exported after the filming, despite Bill and Virginia’s efforts to have her returned to the wild.

In 1982 they visited Pole Pole at London Zoo. Lonely and unpredictable, Pole Pole paced her barren enclosure, but even in her distress she remembered them. They called her name. She stopped, turned and came to them, her trunk outstretched, straining to touch their reaching hands. It was a heart-breaking, life-changing moment for Bill and Virginia. In 1983 Pole Pole was destroyed at the Zoo after a failed attempt to move her to another facility. She was just 16 years old. Determined that her short life would not be in vain, Bill, Virginia and their eldest son, Will, launched Zoo Check in March 1984, the charity that evolved into the Born Free Foundation.

Under threat
Elephants are gentle and wise, perceptive and sentient, loving and loyal. Tragically, elephants are under terrible threat. These immense, intelligent animals are killed in the wild for their ivory tusks, and exploited in captivity for ‘entertainment’. Poachers have their guns trained on elephants and they shoot to kill. In the line of fire are animals of every age – even calves are chopped up for their budding tusks. Born Free has launched a 30th anniversary appeal to save the elephant.

Elephant poaching and the illegal trade in ivory is a multi-billion pound business run by highly organised criminal networks. Entire families of elephants are gunned down by cold-blooded, commercially driven militants, armed with sophisticated equipment, including automatic weapons and helicopters.

Unbelievably, on average, an elephant is brutally killed every 15 minutes and butchered for its ivory tusks. This means nearly 100 elephants die every day across Africa. An estimated 35,000 elephants have been killed this year alone and numbers are rising fast.

Just 35 years ago, Africa had more than 1.3 million elephants. Now nearly 70% may have been lost, due to a frenzied lust for ivory. Numbers are in freefall and have plummeted to less than 420,000. The species is officially listed as ‘vulnerable’, which means they now face a ‘high risk of extinction’ in the wild.

The poaching is fuelled by a massive upsurge in demand for ivory in China and the Far East. The new-found wealth of a mushrooming middle class means hundreds of millions of people have money to spend on cars, air conditioning, refrigerators and so on, but also, disastrously, on ivory carvings, jewellery and trinkets.

Committed to fighting
Born Free is committed to fighting the illegal ivory trade and protecting elephants on every level. Working in partnership with KWS and other wildlife law enforcement agencies across Africa, Born Free is determined to keep wild elephants safe and is working to raise money to fund, train and equip wildlife rangers, crack down on armed poachers, investigate the illegal trade, infiltrate trading gangs, arrest ivory dealers and disrupt the brutal work of the crime syndicates which currently operate with impunity.

But it’s not just in the wild that elephants are under threat. Thousands of these remarkable animals are exploited to provide old-fashioned ‘entertainment’ in zoos, circuses and private facilities throughout the world. They are often kept in terrible, squalid cages, and many elephants – these most sociable of animals – are held captive in neurotic solitude.

Born Free has published a shocking report, highlighting the on-going plight of solitary captive elephants today. The report, named Innocent Prisoner reveals that there are over 40 captive elephants currently housed alone across Europe. Yet, as we know, this highly intelligent species has evolved to enjoy complex social lives in closely-bonded families. Born Free’s report exposes the appalling life-histories of some of these individuals, including 47-year old Twiggy, caught in the wild, shuttled between seven facilities, and now languishing, alone, at Belgrade Zoo in Serbia.

Born Free President  Will Travers OBE  is aghast at the situation. “In 1983, Pole Pole’s death sent shockwaves around the captive industry. We thought the keeping of elephants in solitary would become a distant memory. It seems many zoos and circuses have learned nothing and are living in the past.”

“We need to ask ourselves some tough questions,” says Born Free’s Founder Virginia McKenna OBE. “Where is our humanity? Are humans so devoid of compassion that we’re prepared to sacrifice the lives of these ancient creatures to provide old-fashioned ‘entertainment’ at zoos? So debauched we’re prepared to accept tens of thousands of deaths so ivory knick-knacks can be displayed on a mantelpiece? Just for that? Shame on us. If you feel as we do, if you want a world where elephants are appreciated, respected, protected – and indeed loved… please support our work. Thank you.”

30th anniversary events
Take part in Born Free’s 30th anniversary and help us raise funds by joining Born Free and Virginia McKenna on a luxury 30th anniversary safari. See where it all began with a visit to Elsa’s Kopje, Joy Adamson’s Meru Camp, Amboseli’s elephants and much more! Or, if you’re feeling more energetic, Born Free are holding a 30th anniversary Kilimanjaro challenge! Join Born Free for the ultimate adventure to conquer Africa’s highest mountain. For further information and details on how to book please visit: www.bornfree.org.uk