2016 Review

Stephen Wiggins Uncategorised Leave a Comment

Banner image: Snow Leopard (Adobe i-stock)

The nostalgia of the festive season, plus the year’s closing is soon upon us.

Wildlife tourism and its non-consumptive appreciation is a driving factor for the future sustainability (survival even) for key species of our beloved wildlife as we head into 2017.

So let’s start the review with an up-beat New Year’s wish……………to walk in the footsteps of the legendary Joy and George Adamson – walking the path of their pioneering wildlife appreciation and conservation legacy, a path that is just as clear today.

In 1938, George started as a game control officer, becoming a Senior Wildlife Warden on the Kenyan, Northern Frontier district. George met ‘Joy’ (formerly Friederike Viktoria Gessner, a naturalist, writer and artist) whilst on safari. They married in 1944 and set out on their life amongst Kenya’s wildlife.


Figure 1 – Vintage 1960’s poster for the film ‘Born Free’

‘Born Free’ depicts Joy and George’s life in the 1940s/50s Kenya and the re-wilding of their adopted lioness, “Elsa.” Whilst tracking a troublesome male lion across open ground, George (in his capacity of warden) and his party were charged by a lioness (Elsa’s mother), the lioness was shot and killed. George realised that the lioness had acted out of pure protective instinct, when her three young cubs were discovered nearby. The cubs were now left extremely vulnerable with the loss of their mother.


Figure 2 – Joy and George Adamson pictured with Elsa, the lioness.

So George took the cubs back home where he and Joy set about trying to care for the cubs (which proved a daunting challenge with little past knowledge, or reference work available). The two largest cubs, named “Big One” and “Lustica” were eventually relocated to a zoo in The Netherlands. But Joy and George kept and raised the smallest cub, Elsa themselves, later successfully re-wilding Elsa.

George was to become known as ‘Baba ya Simba’ (“Father of Lions” in Swahili) because of his inherent ability to be at one with lions that seemed to accept him in close company – George retired as a warden in 1961 and devoted himself to raising lions who could not look after themselves, training them to return and survive in the wild.

Joy was extremely close and fond of all the wildlife that filled their lives, writing extensively of their adventures and experiences, including the world-renowned ‘Born Free’ published in 1960 – the story of raising and re-wilding Elsa.

Royalties from Joy’s books (‘Born Free,’ ‘Living Free,’ and ‘Forever Free’), her artistic work (‘Joy Adamson’s Africa’) and the subsequent film adaptations (including ‘Born Free’ released in 1966), were collected into a charity which Joy called the Elsa Wild Animal Appeal. This charity was later renamed The Elsa Conservation Trust. Joy and George were both ardent supporters of fundraising for wildlife’s needs, subsequently donating both of their estates to The Elsa Conservation Trust.

Elsamere was the former home of Joy and George Adamson (about 40 km North-west of Nairobi on the edge of Lake Naivasha).


Figure 3 – Elsamere, Joy and George’s former home



Figure 4 – African Fish Eagle at Lake Naivasha

Elsamere forms part of The Elsa Conservation Trust to this day and is openly daily to visitors, housing a museum, a restaurant, plus a residential education facility – the Centre for Education in Sustainability (CES). Last year, about 15,000 students and teachers passed through the CES, which promotes caring for the earth, conserving biodiversity and protecting habitat. The CES’s mission is to help its student face emerging challenges, such as climate change – so Kenya’s young are aware of the threats their own evolving Kenyan environment (and the world environment) faces. The CES advocates sustainability as key to improving both the environment whilst benefiting its people’s long-term future.


Figure 5 – Elsamere is now a museum and Centre for Education in Sustainability (CES)

2016 was the 50th anniversary of the release of the film adaptation of ‘Born Free,’ which was celebrated on 27 April 2016 with a Royal Premier screening in Monaco (but for those not on that rather exclusive invite list, ‘Born Free’ was also screened on Sky TV!).

Virginia McKenna (OBE and Born Free Founder) played Joy Adamson in the film, with her husband, the late Bill Travers (MBE) playing George Adamson.

In a recent revisit to the ‘Born Free’ set and the film’s making (‘Virginia McKenna’s Born Free,’ Channel 4), Virginia and her eldest son, Will Travers (OBE and Born Free President) gave a guided tour of the film’s setting – Will was only five years old during the filming of Born Free, but has clear memories of that 9 month ‘adventure.’

In considering the plight of today’s wildlife, it seems poignant to step back and revisit the work of Joy and George Adamson at Elsamere, relive ‘Born Free,’ whilst also grasping the CES’s message that ‘sustainability’ is inexorably entwined in wildlife’s and mankind’s future on our shared planet – a reflection from the past and a message today not to be over-looked by anyone.


2016 Summary


Figure 6 – Cecil the lion

So, where are we at with regard to the ‘sustainability’ of wildlife at the end of 2016……At the start of the year we had the reported “Cecil Effect” causing a crash (just 7 months after his demise), in the popularity of hunting at a captive predator breeding facility (Bubye Valley Conservancy B.V.C.) in Zimbabwe – an excess 200 lions were now in evidence at B.V.C. (despite a typical hunting quota of 10 – 15 lions from a breeding stock of 500 lions, nowhere near enough to create 200 excess lions in just 7 months).

Had the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) hunting trophy importation restrictions (actually seeking proof of the source hunt’s contribution to species’ sustainability/conservation) actually kicked in that quickly? It took until recently for the full extent of USFWS’ intentions to manifest – with an October 2016 statement that lion trophy import restriction would extend to captive specimens.

Lion Canned_2

Figure 7 – Captive lion breeding – ‘Campaign Against Canned Hunting’

However, expectations were somewhat dashed at CITES CoP17 in October when the ‘uplisting’ of lions and all elephant populations to the protection of Appendix I was denied.

Sadly, CITES CoP17 also perpetuated the captive predator breeding industry, with the adoption of a severely compromised ‘plan’ favouring continuation of lion exploitation for bone and body parts trading, plus the continuation of wild lion hunting quotas being unhindered in range states (due to a lack of Appendix I protection). Poaching of wild lions to infiltrate the CITES approved captive’ lion bone trade will no doubt bring even more pressure upon remaining wild lion populations.

Hopefully, 2017 will bring all elements of the captive industry around a table, to try and bring some semblance of transparency and over-sight to an industry lacking recognisable regulatory scrutiny (not to mention a moral compass).


Good news…..The newly appointed CEO for South Africa Tourism, Sisa Ntshona has said “South African Tourism does not promote or endorse any interaction with wild animals such as the petting of wild cats, interacting with elephants and walking with lions, cheetahs and so on” – New SA Tourism CEO hopes to ‘eradicate’ cub petting and animal interaction, Traveller24, 15 December 2016

In July, there was the lion crisis” with the neglected animals evident at Walter Slippers’ captive breeding facility in Limpopo. This appalling display of animal neglect cannot be allowed to continue/blossom and prosper under CITES’ auspices and blessing.


Figure 8 – Neglected, captive bred lions at Walter Slippers’ facility in Limpopo – July 2016 

As we come to the close of 2016, the trophy hunting industry continues to hold onto the ‘theory’ that hunting can be (if ‘well regulated’….etc.) a force for good and not evil (with advocates claiming hunting protects habitat from the threat of even more invasive and destructive forces).

But wildlife’s declining numbers (lost to poaching, human/wildlife conflict and hunting) keep on bombarding us.


Figure 9 – Elephant populations in decline

The ‘Great Elephant Census’ (August 2016) estimated a population of some 374,983 savannah elephants on study sites in 18 countries (plus an estimate for Namibia) – showing some 80,000 elephants poached for ivory in Africa between 2010 and 2012, with the rate of decimation increasing to 27,691 ± 5,996 elephants per year by 2014.

In April 2016, Kenya burnt 100 tonnes of ivory (and rhino horn) representing the needless deaths of some 6,700 elephants and 450 rhino, demonstrating the distaste for the criminal industry that supports the illicit trade in these exploited creatures.


Figure 10 – Kenyan, confiscated ivory and rhino horn burning – 30 April 2016  

One positive outcome of CoP17 was a resolution (CoP17 Com. II 6) calling on all nations to close domestic ivory trading “that is contributing to poaching or illegal trade” – (which is all ivory trading of course, as any trading breeds demand, illicit or otherwise).


Figure 11 – CITES Resolution (October 2016) calls for ivory trading to close world-wide  

Hopefully, the United Kingdom will follow CITES’ recommendation (not to mention a United Kingdom government pledge) to shut down all ivory trading within its jurisdiction early in the New Year. This move is needed, to show other countries that the ivory trade is no longer internationally acceptable – there are signs that China needs to be cajoled to implement a promised closing of its domestic ivory trade. The previous reluctance of Japan to consider its own massive domestic ivory trade negatively (and its driving of poaching), also needs to be reinforced by international commitment and action.


Figure 12 – Illicit rhino horn trade taking an unsustainable toll and threatening the species extinction  

Rhino are still subject to poaching for their horn – The South African Department for Environmental Affairs has yet to publically release statistics for 2016, but in a May 2016 statement, poached numbers were up (from 331 to 393 rhino lost) on the same time last year. The debate over the proposed legal trade in farmed rhino and their ‘harvested’ horn removal rumbles on – though a farmed rhino horn harvesting proposal by Swaziland (CoP17 Prop. 7) to CoP17 was defeated. The debate lobbying for similar proposals from South Africa rumbles on, but a similar proposal from South Africa to CoP18 is expected (unless otherwise diverted by the clear academic arguments against).


Figure 13 – Wild giraffe population now below 100,000 and the giraffe listed as ‘Vulnerable’ by the IUCN – image courtesy of Burrard Lucas 

Then we had the news in December 2016 that the IUCN had raised the humble and gentle giraffe to ‘Vulnerable,’ with the giraffe population plummeting from about 157,000 to 97,500 in the last 30 years, the IUCN citing the reasons as “growing human population is having a negative impact on many giraffe subpopulations. Illegal hunting, habitat loss and changes through expanding agriculture and mining, increasing human-wildlife conflict, and civil unrest are all pushing the species towards extinction.


Figure 14 – The seasonal killing at Taiji cove continues – but the protests are getting bigger and louder 


On-going protests against the cetacean slaughter in Taiji (the next protest in London is due 28 January 2016), but reports of those seeking to witness this year’s slaughter in Taiji cove being denied access and detained upon entry to Japan.


Figure 15 – SeaWorld announced its “orca retirement plan by 2019

In May 2016, SeaWorld announced its “orca retirement plan by 2019,” but that is not enough to end the suffering of all held captive for human ‘entertainment’ – no one that cares for the fate of these captives is going to rest until SeaWorld and its ilk are shut down in entirety and all captives given sanctuary (hopefully, at their abusers’ enduring expense).

The campaign highlighting the barbaric treatment of dogs and cats (killed for human consumption) has had some recent success as it is announced (14 December 2016) that Korea’s largest dog meat market closes its doors, but similar abuse remains widespread in Yulin, (China)  and elsewhere across Asia and Africa (‘Fight Dog Meat’).

We haven’t even got to the on-going plight of farmed tigers, bear bile and captive animal farms across Asia (‘Animals Asia’ seeks to rescue such victims into safe sanctuary)……………….

Let’s hope for some happier times ahead (closing off the daily tragedy of Yemen and  Syria with a return to peace), mankind hopefully recovering its humanity for our world and all of the planet’s inhabitants.


The fight goes on to relieve animal suffering, abuse and threatened species’ sustainable future.

Thank you for supporting wildlife in 2016 (and beyond) 



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