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Shouting to stop elephant extinction as CITES starts

I’d like to say the first time I saw elephants in the wild, the ground shock and the earth rumbled. It didn’t. In fact, it was the most natural feeling in the world, to see a small herd sweep through the bushes and thorny acacia trees.

It didn’t feel like a surprise, to have these beautiful giants walk into my life because it felt like me walking into their life was the surprising part. The earth beneath my feet, and the plants, and even the hot, dry, slightly dung-scented air, belonged to these creatures not to me. It was far more humbling than epic.

Elephant's Journey, photograph by Kate SnowdonYesterday, the 17th CITES meeting began in Johannesburg. CITES; the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, is a meeting between governments to reach international agreement on wildlife trade. Launched in 1975 to protect wild animals, it takes place every three years with representatives from most of the 182 Member Countries discussing whether to tighten or loosen trade restrictions on specific species.

There are roughly 5600 species of animals and 30,000 species of plants already protected by CITES, which lists threatened species in three appendices, according to how threatened they are by poaching, habitat destruction and international trade. A simple break down of these is as follows (please see here for full explanation):

  • Appendix I lists species that are the most endangered among CITES-listed animals and plants. They are threatened with extinction and CITES prohibits international trade in specimens of these species except when the purpose of the import is not commercial, for instance for scientific research.
  • Appendix II lists species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled. International trade in specimens of Appendix-II species may be authorized by the granting of an export permit or re-export certificate. No import permit is necessary for these species under CITES. Permits or certificates should only be granted if the relevant authorities are satisfied that certain conditions are met, above all that trade will not be detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild.
  • Appendix III is a list of species included at the request of a Party that already regulates trade in the species and that needs the cooperation of other countries to prevent unsustainable or illegal exploitation. International trade in specimens of species listed in this Appendix is allowed only on presentation of the appropriate permits or certificates.

This year’s meeting is the first to be hosted by an African country since the year 2000 and a record number of proposals, resolutions and decisions are expected to be made — with elephants, lions and rhinos high on the agenda. In my last blog post I looked at the debate surrounding the trade in rhino horn (i.e. whether or not it should be legalised), and today I want to talk about elephants. (Look out for my next blog on the protection status of African lions. I have previously written about the trophy hunting industry here).

Remembering Elephants

This is week seemed like the best time to stop and think about elephants. To really appreciate their beauty and their place in Africa and Asia, and indeed on this planet that we are fortunate enough to share with them. I couldn’t have imagined a better way to do this than at the book launch of an incredible book of wild elephant photography, called Remembering Elephants. Founder of the Remembering Elephants project, Margot Raggett (pictured below), explained that all of the photographs that appear in the book were gifted by the photographers, allowing it to be sold with 100% of profits donated to Born Free Foundation, to help such elephant projects as:

  • helping rangers in Kenya in their fight against poaching
  • volunteers in Mali
  • the veterinary unit in Malawi
  • the Ethiopian Elephant Sanctuary.

remembering-elephants-2Knowing the importance of the evening and the context of the book, it was particularly poignant when Born Free Foundation co-founder Virginia McKenna explained that the level of protection that these animals receive will be determined by the 182 Member Countries at CITES over the next few days, and the European Union has officially announced it will not support the Appendix 1 ban on elephant ivory trade. Last week, however, Britain announced its decision to ban all sales of ivory that cannot be proved to be over 70 years old. Virginia took the opportunity to call for a ban on ALL ivory sales in Britain, including in auction houses, stating: “The chink in the armour is easily exploited. It is easy to label something as antique.” 

Virginia addressed the audience to express her concern that at the rate at which elephant numbers are declining (in the early 20th century there were thought to be 3-5 million wild elephants, compared to an estimated 450,000 – 700,000 African elephants and between 35,000 – 40,000 wild Asian elephants alive today), these such photographs may be the only way we can see elephants. A selection of the photographs included in the book can be seen below:

Next to take the stage was Ian Redmond OBE, who I’ve worked alongside on previous projects (and blog posts!) relating to vEcotours. Ian was introduced as seeing himself as ‘a naturalist by birth, biologist by training, and a conservationist by necessity. This certainly came across when he spoke about the difference between the two different types of African elephant (savannah elephant and forest elephant; distinguishable by more rounded ears and brownish tusks that point down rather than outwards), yet how incredibly integral both species are to their environments and eco-systems.

I have heard Ian Redmond call elephants the ‘gardeners of the forest’ before, but thinking of them carving the landscape; be it by dispersing seeds in their dung (also a brilliant plant fertilizer), churning up and deepening water holes with their trunks or trampling down vegetation, allowing a variety of plants to grow; I truly understood the sentiment in his statement that “when you save elephants, you don’t just save elephants”.

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Ian talks about the world’s only underground elephants, that mine for salt in caves near Mount Elgon. Find out more here: http://www.vecotourism.org/news/take-a-tour/salt-mining-elephants-of-mount-elgon/

He spoke of the underground elephants of Kitum Cave; the loss he felt at a young male, Charles (pictured above) being poached there; and how those on the ground, poaching these animals are simply desperate people, trying to make money  and how the real ‘bad guys’ are the ones buying and using these products. It was hard not to appreciate that demand for ivory ornaments and elephant parts as traditional Asian medicine really is the root cause of driving elephants to the brink of extinction.

Finally, we were left with a story that demonstrates the power of these animals, compared to that of humans, as Ian described his recent encounter in Mount Elgon, which left him rolling backwards underneath an elephant!

Ian had brought a special friend along with him for the event, one who I was introduced to at the end of the night; Archie the Elephant. Archie (the fluffy little guy sitting on my shoulder), has his own Facebook page, where updates of his adventures traveling around the world with various field biologists, conservationists, etc. will be documented to raise awareness of global wildlife issues and help tell the stories of different species and environments. The idea is, if you ‘like’ Archie’s page, you’ll learn about all sorts of wildlife stories. As someone who works in educational media, I think this is a great idea for kids! (and adults alike, really!).

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Global March for Elephants and Rhinos

Yesterday, two days after the Remembering Elephants book launch, and coinciding with the opening day of CITES, hundreds of people took the streets of London to voice there disappointment in the EU’s decision not to back the Appendix 1 listing of elephants, to call for a FULL ban in Britain on the sale of ivory, and show CITES, and the world that we want the poaching of elephants and rhinos to end. Similar marches took place in more than 130 countries around the world.

global-march-for-elephants-and-rhinos-2Please take a moment to listen to this passionate speech from campaigner Dominic Dyer delivered outside South Africa House, which articulates the demands of those demonstrating, and the desperate situation that elephants are facing, far better than I can.

The march, organised by Action for Elephants UK finished at Downing Street, where a number of speakers voiced the significance of elephants and rhinos to our world, our need to protect their conservation status, and the desire for a full ban on ivory sale in the UK.

Knowing that Andrea Leadsom, Minister of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change will be attending the CITES meeting in Johannesburg later this week, a letter was delivered to Prime Minister Theresa May outlining these demands and signed by hundreds of significant figures spanning across environmental experts, television personalities and leading religious figures. The letter can be seen here in the hands of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who will soon be releasing a film on the realities of the ivory industry.

global-march-for-elephants-and-rhinos-33Virginia McKenna also delivered a passionate plea outside Downing Street, holding up a child’s painting of elephants and declaring that ‘when we have children caring about these animals, caring about these issues, we must win’. I really hope that the world’s governments are paying attention!


Some of the people at the march, giving their support to elephants and rhinos by calling for Appendix 1 protections status at CITES were:

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David and the lion’s den

Sounds like a twist on a biblical story, doesn’t it? Well, there are a couple of things of epic proportions in this latest update.

Just a day after posting my recent interview with Captured in Africa about their work rescuing and relocating lions that have either fallen into the trophy hunting trade that saw Cecil the lion killed and beheaded (see my blog post Bred for the bullet for further explanation), or that have been kept captive as pets; I joined the biggest ever march against trophy hunting — taking to the streets of London alongside Born Free actress Virginia McKenna and representatives from the charities: Lion Aid, IFAW, Save Me Trust, Four Paws, One Protest and of course Born Free Foundation.

virginia mckenna march I donned my best lion themed attire, to listen to stirring speeches from campaigner Dominic Dyer, Green World TV’s Anneka Svenska and Game of Thrones actor and staunch lion advocate James Cosmo and Virginia herself (among others), as a huge crowd of hundreds of men, women, children (and dogs) of all ages called out to ‘save our lions!’ and ‘Stop trophy hunting!’.

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Given that I know full well the perils that lions go through during a life cycle in the trophy hunting industry (from petting farms as a cubs, to get them accustomed to human interaction and build a state of trust; to overcrowded pens as adolescences, where their teeth and claws are often forcibly removed; and finally a fenced off enclosure as an adult, where they have no escape from being shot with a gun or bow and arrow depending on the request of the hunter): I can’t believe that any mainstream media outlet can champion cub petting in any form, particularly in the name of conservation.

But this week, RadioTimes seem to have done just that.

imageI refuse to share a picture of myself and the magazine alone, without this weekend’s march banner, as I feel so strongly that anything that can be seen to advocate cub-cuddling is a part of the problem.

Another part of the Goliath-sized dilemma is that I am such a huge fan of Sir David Attenborough.

IMG_8429I expect, from the magazine’s standfirst stating that: “As a birthday celebration we paired him up with two playful cubs, for our exclusive photo shoot at his home” that these must be captive zoo lions, as the photo shoot is said to take place in his home, rather than at a sanctuary of any sorts.

I know that Sir David’s early work centred around zoos, with his first television series, Zoo Quest, discussed here (NOTE: a more recent blog post, which clarifies my updated stance on zoos can also be viewed here, for anyone who’s interested), but this really isn’t about zoos, or where conservationists stand on the age-old debate of do they help with awareness and conservation, or don’t they this is about encouraging photographs with lion cubs.

Literature handed out at the Global March for Lions

Literature handed out at the Global March for Lions

Please take a moment to view the image above, which details the role that cub petting tourist attractions and cub-raising volunteer programmes play in the much darker trophy hunting industry, which sees adult lions hunted for cash and their heads flown to the hunters’ home turf, to be mounted on the wall.

This is a great opportunity to add that if you haven’t seen the incredibly powerful documentary, Blood Lions, please, please check it out, to fully understand this issue.image

I would still like to know more about the lion cubs used for the RadioTimes cover: who/where do they belong to? Why were they used for this photo shoot? And why did Sir David chose to go along with it? In the meantime, I shall just returned to all the other, much-loved David Attenborough-based literature I have to hand, including the last RT issue that featured him on the cover: which only gets about as dark as the 3D glasses he is wearing! image

I’ll also be adding my name to this petition, started by Paul TullyRADIO TIMES – EXPLAIN & REMOVE YOUR COVER FEATURING DAVID ATTENBOROUGH HOLDING A CAPTIVE LION CUB and praying that Sir David uses this opportunity to open the world’s eyes to the industry surrounding commercial lion cub petting.

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Colouring for conservation with Millie Marotta & Virginia McKenna

I love to sit in bookshop cafés. There’s something romantic about the notion: removing oneself from the wired in, Wi-Fi ready world around us to escape into fantasy lands or global adventure over a warm cup of tea.

I’ve never before sat in a bookshop café with a cocktail and some colouring pencils though — until last Thursday night.

Nestled in the basement café of Waterstones, Piccadilly; renowned adult colouring book illustrator Millie Marotta welcomed an audience of avid colourers and curious artists to a special event commemorating her latest book release and her new position as a patron of the Born Free Foundation.

imageAlthough I fancy myself as a bit of a coloured pencil artist (I wish there was less loaded term than ‘artist’!), having held my own exhibition last year to raise funds for Born Free Foundation’s Europe Elephant Sanctuary; I’ve never actually indulged in adult colouring books before, so this was a delve into the unknown for me.

Without really knowing what to expect, but intrigued by the new book’s title: Wild Savannah, I listened intently as Sunday Times journalist Katie Glass interviewed Millie about her work, her training (she studied as an illustrator before becoming an art teacher, then getting into publishing) and her previous books, which have sold more than 4 million copies!

imageOne of the most interesting elements to me was Millie’s admission that creating the book allowed her to discover animals that she’d never before seen or heard of; such as the pangolin.

I asked her whether she ever had similar feedback from the adults that use her books: that indulging in her illustrations has allowed them to learn about a creature that they wouldn’t have otherwise come across, and she admitted that she is regularly contacted on her Facebook page by people expressing that the books have taught them something about the natural world or made them consider an environment in a new way.Millie Marotta 1It seemed fitting then that Born Free Foundation Founder, Virginia McKenna was invited to speak about Millie’s new position as a patron of the charity and how her books will go onto inspire a new interest in the wild for many.

The theme of her latest colouring book is the wild savannah, and as such, it includes illustrations of savannah landscapes in Africa, India and South Australia.

imageVirginia spoke passionately about the pairing between the foundation and Millie Marotta’s work; highlighting that in Born Free Foundation’s Year of the Lion, it was a special blessing to have Millie advocate the brand and even release a number of signed limited edition prints of her lion illustration, on behalf of the charity.

I spoke to Virginia afterwards about the art workshops that Millie will be holding in schools across Kenya, as part of a Born Free’s Global Friends initiative to help educate schoolchildren about their local wildlife; to help change attitudes towards animals consider ‘pests’ and find a way to work with them and the environment, such as through the use of lion-proof bomas around farmland.

Kate and Virginia

“Optimist to the core, Millie is one of the people inspiring that hope in Kenya,” she said. “Her approach is a valuable, powerful and unforgettable inspiration — lucky children I say!”

It sounded like an incredibly positive and progressive way of exploring an issue, and as a lover and advocate of education and schools, I think it’s a wonderful thing for Millie Marotta (especially as a former art teacher) to have taken on. Bringing together education and conservation can only be a good thing!

Now, excuse me while I finish off my rhino colouring…

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Be the one traveler, long I stood

I believe in journeys.

I believe in journeys because they bring change and challenge and movement.

Journeys bring progress. They bring knowledge and hunger and resilience. Often frustration, always triumph; if you afford yourself such things.

The best journeys are often the journeys you never even knew you were on, until you suddenly find yourself at a crossroads or dramatically changing course. I believe that to be successful on journeys you have to be successful at opening your mind and letting your opinions change. A stubborn journey will likely be a short one.

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I first encountered Sinbad, the miniature lion in his home at Shamwari Game Reserve. Sinbad was at the Julie Ward Centre; a location that I certainly feel some connection with. His legs were stunted in their growth when his teeth were pulled from his gums to make him a more suitable photographer’s prop at the French zoo he was rescued from. He couldn’t eat properly without them.

DSC_1003But Sinbad the miniature lion grew. Not physically. He was given the opportunity to adapt from a confined cell in a zoo to a lush enclosure in South Africa; the closest to the wild that the small lion can possibly survive in. And he thrives.

You see, it’s easy to appreciate nature when we watch it on the television. We admire it when Sir David Attenborough so beautifully narrates the journeys that creatures great and small, land and sea, make in the wild – but it’s easy to overlook the journeys of animals in captivity.

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 “Animals need zoos to survive. Zoos are a vital tool in getting the next generation interested in nature and they provide the best means of studying animals.”

Zoos and education are presented to us hand-in-hand

Zoos and education are presented to us hand-in-hand

This is a viewpoint I hear often, and one I, myself, had previously subscribed to. Earlier in the year, I penned a post about my opinion of zoos and captivity; to clarify my standpoint to myself, as much as anyone who may find themselves reading my incessant typing! I concluded with an opinion much in-line with the afore mentioned.

But I’ve been on somewhat of a journey since then.

About this time last year, I felt that my blog platform had run its course. There were other matters to focus on, and as my number of views dwindled, I knew whatever audience I was writing for had other matters to focus on too.

But in May, I found myself back on a pathway I thought I’d ventured away from – journeys can have a funny way of doing that, you see.

In Born Free Foundation’s 30th anniversary year, I found an opportunity to reconnect with my reasons and motivations for supporting the charity by attending some of their one-off events: and what wonderful, educational eye-openers they were. I am beyond grateful for the opportunities I have had – thoughtful discussions with lifelong idol Virginia McKenna and long-time role model Pollyanna Pickering, and the long in-depth chats with Born Free President Will Travers about the future of conservation that have gone on to reshape my thinking. To put that simply, I no longer have an internal argument as to whether the educational benefits of zoos justify the isolation and unnatural surroundings of a captive environment: through research, discussions and uncompromised honesty, I now see clearly that they don’t.

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At the same time as reaching these realisations, this year I have found myself a little lost at times while finding my way onto the correct career path.

But after nearly taking the chance on a blogging and marketing internship in Malawi, I opted out after reaching the final three in the process, because another offer reached me: a full time, paid and permanent position at Discovery Education UK.

dcimissionstatementHaving worked for Discovery Education UK before, I knew this was a huge and wonderful opportunity for me, and this time I have a more hands-on role in delivering news to primary school children.

There is something quite wonderful about having a job that helps to educate children by giving them the tools and knowledge to discover their own thoughts and opinions on things happening in the world, and when that includes case studies on stories such as isolated elephant Mali, I know that somehow, I have found my way.

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More than a dot-to-dot painting…

As someone who looks to many places for ideas and inspiration, there’s a video I return to time and time again. The words of the late Steve Jobs, Co-Founder of Apple and Creator of Pixar animations, have always rung true to me:

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“It’s impossible to connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking back” – SJ.

I’ve been connecting the dots a lot lately.

Somewhere in 2009, a few months after returning from my Born Free Shamwari adventure, I found my mind and heart brimming with inspiration and motivation – creativity that I struggled to find a use for.

I booked an exhibition slot at my local art gallery, to sell artwork to raise money for the Born Free Foundation. In the midst of creating a ‘Natural World’ portfolio of work, I discovered a wildlife art magazine called Wildscape. I wrote to the editor, asking how I could get hold of a copy, and soon held a yearly subscription.

Wildscape

It was among the beautiful glossy pages of Wildscape that I first registered the work of Pollyanna Pickering: stunning images of tigers, a case study on jaguars and a ’25 years of Born Free Foundation’ double page spread that connected the first of the dots.

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Later that year, I noticed in my annual Born Free members catalogue a range of Christmas Cards with Pollyanna Pickering’s art work printed on them. I’ve since learned that the Pollyanna Pickering Foundation donated £8,000 towards building the Shamwari-based Julie Ward education centre that played a poignant part in my visit.

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“You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” – SJ

This month I found myself strolling through the enchanting gardens of Pollyanna’s Derbyshire home. An on-foot safari of wildlife sculptures and beautiful landscaping that left me feeling like a character from Alice Through the Looking Glass.

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I was there for the Born Free Foundation Celebration Day and the opportunity to view her ‘Way of the Wolf’ exhibition held within her gallery home. Pollyanna and her daughter Anna Louise were warm and welcoming, and whilst I don’t wish to give too much away, the exhibition rooms were a treasure trove of talent.

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As her pen danced over my 30th anniversary Calendar, I had to catch myself from a nostalgic day dream of tearing open the brown envelopes that Wildscape arrived in – envelops that promised page after page of breath taking artwork in a magazine I used to long to write for.

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“You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever – because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off of the well-worth path, as that will make all the difference.” – SJ

I assume intentionally, Mr Jobs’ speech encompassed the words of my favourite poem and life mantra: Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken reads:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same, 

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back. 

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 

I know that I have opted for the road less travelled many times in my life and as way leads on to way, I find myself somehow staying on the path that I’ve always wanted to take. Never more so than sitting outside the Way of the Wolf exhibition hall, on a low garden wall, next to Born Free CEO and Co-Founder Will Travers, and quizzing him on the changes he’s witnessed over Born Free Foundation’s 30 years.

“When we started, I wouldn’t have believed it if you’d told me at this point now there would be no more elephants at London Zoo, no more elephants used in UK circuses, no more live animals used at Disneyland – I just wouldn’t have believed it,” he tells me.

As we chewed over everything from the Irwin legacy to Sea World (- look out for a blog post on this soon), I listened as Mr Travers told me that so-called ‘Millennials’ (those, like me, that reached young adulthood around the turn of the millennium) were the driving force behind protests against water circuses, such as Sea World. Ten per cent more 18-25 year olds have petitioned against Sea World’s practices than their ‘baby-boomer’ counterparts, I’m informed.

“The trouble is always that we have to work and plan to time frames – and those aren’t necessarily short term,” Will tells me.

“We have to think in 4 year strategies, as that’s how often the government changes. We have to think of young audiences in terms of the years that they’re at university – or school years. In reality it takes 30 years to really start to make a difference.”

Before we’re interrupted and Will gets whisked away – as his mother Virginia McKenna has sold and signed all the gallery’s copies of her autobiography already and the orders are still rolling in – he leaves me with the thought that the next 30 years of Born Free will be filled with hard work, strategy but ultimately triumph if, the two former are gotten right.

“Yes, we have to make the dots connect, but first we have to be able to look ahead and locate where those dots are before we can even start to join them together.” 

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“Tonight they roar ‘don’t forget us’!”

A welcome with open arms…

Those millions of YouTube viewers who have watched Christian the lion’s reunion with John Rendall and Anthony (Ace) Bourke will recognise the hesitant stroll that holds Christian back for a second, as if drinking in the presence of his old friends, before the magnetised yearning to rekindle with a familiar past becomes too much to suppress, and snaps him from his slow motion progress towards the pair into a full-on run – climaxing in an open-pawed embrace, re-welcoming them into his life.

 

Whilst I have never previously attended Pride in the Park during its 13 year existence, there was a definite sense of returning to familiarity when I found myself set amongst the Born Free logos and 30th Anniversary brandings.

I hesitated myself slightly, to take a deep breath before entering the room where Zulu dancers added vibrant life to the ornate collection of African carvings, prints and memorabilia that decorated each table.

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The most prominent atmosphere created at this event however, was one of warmth and appreciation. I felt as wanted and welcomed as John Rendall must have felt when Christian came charging towards him in that beautiful video.

A particularly strange analogy when I came face-to-face with Mr. Rendall himself during the course of the evening.

IMG_4600In awe of the company I dined with, and the generosity of the room; the elegance of the attire and hard work that brings together such occasions, I tucked into my meal with all the thoughts and sensations that one feels when welcomed into exciting new surrounds.

The particular unique setting of overlooking the Derby Pride Park Stadium was not lost on me as I chatted to new faces around the table and sat back to enjoy the excitement of the auction, which helped to raise £21,000 on this fantastic evening.

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A leopard never changes its spots…

I mentioned in my previous blog post that I’d donated an original art work to the raffle at the Pride in the Park event – and was delighted to watch this prize awarded to the winning raffle ticket holder.

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While the venue, location and event organisers (Val and Mike) may have been new to me, there are certain things that echo from Born Free event to Born Free event – and one such thing is the kindness of Born Free Founder and CEO Will Travers, who invited my guest and I to join his table during the raffle and ensured we had the opportunity to speak with his mother, Virginia McKenna OBE before the night was over. Her kind words and friendly eyes reassured me that a little belief and a lot of passion can spread a long way.IMG_4624

The enthusiasm, meeting of minds and sheer enjoyment of the guests in attendance is a constant that I’ve seen across the Born Free events that I’ve attended. Organisers Val and Mike did a great job of enthusing the passion and empathy that I’ve come to associate with animal welfare campaigners into an eclectic evening of dinner, dance and donations.

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For the love of lions…

Born Free began with a lion.

The infamous story of George and Joy Adamson’s relationship with Elsa the lioness has been epitomised by the Born Free Foundation logo, which stared out from the thoughtfully constructed decor of the Pride in the Park hall.

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Although the room was littered with images of lions, including the beautiful hand-carved statues that stood proudly on every table – there are two lions in particular whose plight Pride in the Park was highlighting.

Had I followed through with my previous application for a marketing internship at Lilongwe Wildlife Centre, I might have gotten to meet the two lions in question (I made it to the last 4 in the process before having to pull out for financial reasons).

Simba and Bella; victims of the zoo industry, have joined the sanctuary in a move which ends years of loneliness, solitude and unnatural behaviours for the pair. If all goes well, they will be introduced without the restrictions of a fence.

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In a story that demonstrates perfectly the close knit community and everyday heroism of Born Free Foundation supporters and campaigners – television auctioneer James Lewis delighted, amused and moved the crowd with his story of the significant part he played in moving Bella from her torturous life in Romania while his daughter was being born. Naturally, when Arabella grows up to tell the story of where her name came from, I hope she will be greeted with the affectionate reaction that filled the room as James spoke.

“Tonight they roar: ‘don’t forget us’…”

Of course this wonderful evening had a purpose and a very important message.

Amongst the chatter, the laughter, the dancing and the camaraderie, there had to come a sobering voice to remind us of the reality of what has brought this room full of people together.

A poignant speech from Born Free President Will Travers tragically had to include the words: “We have lost over half Africa’s lions in last 30 years.”

I’ll leave you to think that over for a second.

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When an experience truly moves you, when it speaks to your soul and fully penetrates your thoughts, ideas and challenges your memories and beliefs, it never leaves you.

Many times I’ve found my head nostalgically returning to those busy days spent soaking up life at Shamwari Game Reserve – none more so than seeing Shamwari’s Born Free Animal Care Manager Glen Vena for the first time in 6 years.

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I understand entirely Glen’s passion as he spoke fondly of the animals he encounters everyday at the reserve.
When he tearfully recalled the heart ache of losing a lioness. When he described how all the Born Free big cats filled the dusk air with a chorus of roars as he buried a beast who had suffered so much in earlier years but was liberated to a life of comfort in land they truly belonged.
When he described the feeling of driving to work in a Born Free Land Rover and identifying each vocalisation according to which big cat is making it.
When he told the room: “tonight they roar: don’t forget us…”

We won’t.

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A new Born Free adventure

Wow! What a month! Where do I even start to unravel my latest goings on? Life is certainly a funny game, filled with unexpected twists and turns; sunrises creeping up over horizons you hadn’t even noticed existed behind the entangled thickets of everyday life. This last month has certainly been one of those such scenarios. Busy throwing myself into my many projects; my 9-5(ish) of writing for magazines, blogging for Livelikeavip.com, the odd music review, the odd careers-related post and even keeping an eye on the St Albans Film Festival – which is very close to my heart – it can be a little hard to keep up with myself sometimes. But following a fantastic night in London celebrating Born Free Foundation’s 30th Anniversary ‘Wild Night at the Movies’ event, I have been overwhelmed by the response my review post on the evening received –  including from the likes of journalist  Kate Silverton (who chaired the interview with Born Free Founder Virgin Mckenna on the night) and Will Travers OBE; CEO of the Born Free Foundation. photo(9)But who knew that Tweeting my blog out to the masses would result in an incredibly inspiring and motivational meeting in a private member’s club off of The Strand, London, whereby I would find myself talking through my lifelong journey of supporting the Born Free charity – how it’s influenced my greatest adventures (my gap year spent volunteering in South Africa), my creative talents (my only art exhibition was themed on Africa Wildlife), my travel activities (I spent time in Australia volunteering for Conservation Volunteers Australia) and my career ambitions (my first job out of university was working for Discovery Communications), with Will Travers himself?!

With fantastic support and encouragement, the result of our meeting was that I will revive my Kate on Conservation blog, with the full support of the Born Free Foundation – receiving direct information and (hopefully) a few exclusives, to bring my lovely readers my genuine thoughts and perspectives on conservation issues across the globe from a compassionate supporter’s perspective. I can’t tell you how excited I am!

In the mean time, I’ve been pretty reflective on my relationship with the charity thus far… here’s a little look back on the journey I’ve had to reach this point of blogging with Born Free Foundation:

DSC_0098 Growing up, the stories of Joy and George Adamson’s life with animals captivated me!

DSC_0001So many inspiring thoughts and words on the pages of these beautiful books.

DSC_0127I’ve been a Born Free ‘adoptive parent’ for many years. Beginning with lions Raffi & Anthea in 1996.

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Using the Born Free Foundation as the basis for my end of primary school project; 2001.

DSC_0130I began fundraising for the charity in my early teens, beginning with collecting used stamps and loose change, selling raffle tickets, etc. Before applying for ‘Get More Involved’ packs.

DSC_0131I remember holding a tap top/bake sale of goods from my front lawn when I was about 14. On refection, it may have been a little more effective if I didn’t live in the bottom of a cul-de-sac…

DSC_0132(Above and below): Some of my early fundraising initiatives. Designing my own (rather crude-looking now) Born Free stationary and calendar.

imageA little look inside my homemade calendar…

DSC_0139Following Born Free updates over the years (some of my hoard, which runs from 2002 – 2014!)image2008, aged 18, I made the life-changing decision to volunteer at Shamwari Game Reserve, home of the Born Free Big Cat Sanctuaries.

DSC_0141The letters I received at the beginning and end of my volunteering trip.DSC_0128Celebrating Born Free’s milestones over the years – 21st anniversary, 25th, and this year’s 30th year of the foundation!

DSC_0142The latest collection of literature I’ve been given in the last month – a bit of background reading for my blog posts to come!!