There’s something special about elephants. Not just their colossal size, incredible trunk and magnificent tusks. Elephants are gentle and wise, perceptive and sentient, loving and loyal. And yet, 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’.
Working in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and in countries as diverse as Kenya, Ethiopia, Cameroon and Burkina Faso, international wildlife charity the Born Free Foundation is taking action to save the elephant. We never forget that every animal is an individual, and every single elephant is important.
From humble beginnings
2014 is a very special year for Born Free. It sees the Foundation’s thirtieth 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. To commemorate Born Free’s thirtieth birthday, the charity has launched a major appeal to save the elephant.
The Foundation has a fascinating and unique history. In 1966 our 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. Captured from the wild as a gift from the Kenyan Government to London Zoo, 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 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.
Every elephant counts
Every elephant is an individual and is precious. Elephants such as 13-year old Emily Kate, who lives with her family in Amboseli National Park, in the Rift Valley Province of southern Kenya. Close to the Tanzania border, the 393sq km park is one of Kenya’s best-loved and visited National Parks. It is world-famous for its elephant population, which numbers more than 1300 individuals. The Park nestles at the foot of the awe-inspiring snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, which at 5895m (19,340ft) is Africa’s highest mountain.
Emily Kate is Born Free’s adopted elephant, named by the English actor and Born Free Patron Martin Clunes, after his own young daughter. Working with elephant expert Cynthia Moss and the Amboseli Trust for Elephants, Born Free has helped keep Emily Kate safe since the day she was born. Her family, known as the ‘EBs’, have been studied and monitored by Cynthia and her team since 1973, and Born Free has funded this work for over 20 years.
Emily Kate is the daughter of Echo, the remarkable and wise matriarch elephant, known throughout the world thanks to the BBC’s popular Echo of the Elephants TV series. Using information passed on by her mother, Echo had guided and protected the EB family, which to this day consists of her sisters, daughters, female cousins and their calves. Echo died of old age in May 2009 aged 64, having just four years earlier given birth to Emily Kate’s sister Esprit.
Like her mother, Emily Kate has a huge personality. Feisty and independent, she recently gave birth to her own calf, playful Ewok. But the pair, and their family, are vulnerable. Tragically, elephants across Africa are under terrible threat as poaching for ivory is escalating. Cut-throat poachers have their guns trained on elephants and they shoot to kill. In the line of fire are animals of every age – mothers and grandmothers, veteran bulls and carefree youngsters. Even calves are chopped up for their budding tusks. There is a voracious black market that turns ivory into luxury trinkets and home furnishings.
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. Income from ivory is fuelling war and funding terrorism.
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 were killed in 2013 alone and numbers are rising fast. Unbelievable. Shameful.
Elephants are incredible. We marvel at the wisdom and sensitivity of these sociable family animals. The loving care they give to their calves. The protection they give to young and old alike. Their exceptional memories.Their powers of communication. Elephants mourn their dead.
Elephant society’s complex culture is handed down through generations. And yet elephants are dying in their tens of thousands, reduced to massive, bloody corpses for people’s greed. The impact is catastrophic. But it’s not just the sickening cruelty.
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.
Large parts of Africa are running red with elephants’ blood. It is a conservation crisis. Some countries risk losing their elephants altogether. Small, vulnerable populations in West and Central Africa may not survive.
And people are dying too. Brave wildlife rangers, including members of the Kenya Wildlife Service, are killed as they desperately try to stop the heavily armed, merciless gangs. These dedicated rangers are often drastically underfunded and hopelessly ill-equipped.
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, as well as Kenya Airways, Born Free is determined to keep wild elephants safe and is working to raise money to fund, train and equip brave 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 who currently operate with impunity.
The charity supports anti-poaching patrols across Africa including Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Ethiopia and now Burkina Faso, and is raising funds to provide these courageous men and women with better training and equipment such as boots, radios, first aid kits and GPS systems. With Born Free’s help they can extend the reach of their patrols, arrest more poachers and protect more elephants. Practical support makes an enormous difference.
Born Free is also committed to supporting the Eco Activists for Governance and Law Enforcement (EAGLE), founded by the amazing Ofir Drori in Cameroon and now operating throughout West and Central Africa. EAGLE’s heroic expert teams ignore threats to their own safety to help apprehend poachers and bring dangerous criminals, such as ivory dealers, to justice. They infiltrate trading gangs and tip off officers to arrest them. Their legal team then helps bring the culprits to justice.
But it’s not just in the wild that elephants are under threat. This is only part of the tragedy. 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 – reminder of Pole Pole’s last years at London Zoo.
Born Free has just published a shocking report, highlighting the ongoing plight of solitary captive elephants today. Innocent Prisoner reveals there are over 40 captive elephants currently housed alone across Europe. Yet as we know this highly intelligent species has evolved to enjoy a complex social life in closely bonded families. Born Free’s report exposes the appalling life-histories of some of these 40 individuals, including 47-year old Twiggy, caught in the wild, shuttled between seven different facilities, and now languishing, alone, at Belgrade Zoo in Serbia.
Valli, a 33-year old female Asian elephant, was also wild-born. She has lived on her own at Skanda Vale Monastery in South Wales since 1981, when she was sent as a gift by the then Sri Lanka President.
Lumni is a wild-caught 31-year old female African elephant living in a sparse enclosure at La Teste Bassin D’Arcachon Zoo, France. Before arriving at the zoo in 2010 she travelled with a circus, where damage to her left hind leg left her partially crippled.
Born Free CEO Virginia and Bill’s son Will Travers OBE is aghast at the situation today: “In 1983 Pole Pole’s death sent shockwaves around the captive industry. We thought the keeping of elephants in solitary would soon become a distant memory. It seems many zoos and circuses have learned nothing and are willing to live in the past.”
Born Free’s report calls for immediate action. For example, while there are still elephants in captivity they should be kept in a minimum group of four, and all imports of elephants taken from the wild must end with immediate effect. There is a desperate need for an elephant sanctuary in Europe to offer expert lifetime care to rescued solitary elephants, as successfully achieved in the USA. Meanwhile Born Free’s campaign to phase-out keeping elephants in zoos, circuses and by private individuals continues.
“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.”
Help KQ and the Born Free Foundation
Through our Change Brings Change initiative, Kenya Airways are raising funds for Born Free’s elephant conservation work as well as numerous other projects throughout Africa. PLEASE look out for the donation envelopes in the seat pocket in front of you. Please join with KQ and Born Free to save Africa’s wildlife.