Highs, Lows and Bears in Vietnam

I have just returned from a 3 day workshop in Vietnam hosted by Animals Asia, an organisation we are incredibly proud to be supporting. 😊

The Vietnamese government approached Animals Asia sometime ago asking for their help and guidance regarding the current elephant populations in Vietnam, both wild and captive. The aim of the workshop was to develop a comprehensive plan to improve the welfare of the captive elephant population and to address the current critically low, wild elephant population, estimated to be below 100. 🐘🐘


Another aim of the workshop was to support the government in its development of The Elephant Conservation Centre rescue facility. This is being designed for the rehabilitation of elephants rescued from tourist led activities such as elephant back riding.

The rescue centre is still in the infancy stage, but here are 2 young bull elephants currently being cared for.


On one of the days, delegates were invited to visit the largest tourist elephant riding camp in the area and I went along.  Witnessing what goes on behind the scenes was heart wrenching to say the least. To think that these poor elephants are taken from their mothers at a very young age, beaten into submission to enable them to be ridden, and to top it all, are chained up when not being ridden, is just unbelievable really. They suffer physically and mentally their entire life, but, as long as tourists insist on riding them, this cruel process will continue.  Please spread the word and tell everyone you know NOT to participate in this activity or indeed any activity that involves the exploitation of animals for their enjoyment. Its just not fair.


I also visited a zoo which Animals Asia are working with to improve the dismal day to day lives of these poor captive animals.  I can’t bring myself to share my photos of this with you, but like me, take some comfort in the a fact that Animals Asia are doing everything they can to improve captive welfare. Of course if we had our way, there would be no captive animals, but thank goodness Animals Asia are doing what they can for these animals whilst there is no alternative.

I ended the trip on a much more positive note when I went to see how building works were coming along on the new bear enclosure at Animals Asia’s bear sanctuary in Tam Dao National Park. OAT are co-funding the development of this enclosure that will increase capacity for more bears rescued from the horrendous Bear Bile industry.



Next stop Zambia 🇿🇲 in February and then Guinea 🇬🇳 in March. More on this later…………..

Tis the season…

As Christmas creeps up on us I wanted to wish you all a very merry one and a happy New Year!

2017 looks set to bring a lot more adventure on our mission to help animals! I’m off to Vietnam in January with a packed schedule including revisiting Animals Asia’s Bear Sanctuary and a proposed Vietnamese Elephant Conservation Centre. Feb/March I’m heading back to Africa. I look forward to sharing it all with you along the way.


Sleepless in…Zambia

Here is our animal welfare hero of the month – Cosmas, getting a taste of fatherhood with his latest rescue Chikondi, a tiny baby primate.

After a few sleepless nights, Cosmas decided the only way for both of them to get any sleep, was to have Chikondi sleep next to him. Serious dedication! 🐒🍼😆


Cosmas, project manager of Zambia Primate Project, rescues and rehabilitates many primates in Zambia and successfully releases them back in to the wild. However, when they are this tiny, they need constant care and attention so he regularly hands them  over to Anna & Steve Tolan of Chipembele. Chikondi is now in the loving care of Anna and Steve and enjoying the comfort of other rescued baby primates, Shadi and Pumpkin.  How cute are these photo’s?


Hot Off The Press!

I will be off to Africa and Asia again early next year to spend time with existing and new projects on the ground. I will keep you posted as always but in the meantime here  is some feedback of the fantastic things that have been happening lately…

The Mnkhanya Community

The Mnkhanya community in Mfuwe, South Luangwa Valley in Zambia 🇿🇲 have been putting the OAT sponsored bore hole and irrigation system to good use. Their vegetable garden not only feeds themselves, but also provides income as they sell the surplus to the local community. They have started producing Rape vegetables, lettuce and Sweety Battle spice which are all flourishing.  What a great example of how water can be used in a meaningful way to bring positive change!


The Mnkhanya scouts have also been working hard. Here they are at their Monday morning briefing before going out on de-snaring patrols. Every one of these snares is an animals’ life saved! 👍😀🐒🐘


Conservation Lower Zambezi

On my last last trip to CLZ, I met one of their students on their conservation programme. David Muzengeza David’s passion is the wildlife of Lower Zambezi and he would like to be a game ranger one day.

He was struggling with his studies due to a lack of course material.

OAT supplied him with everything he needs to pass his exams and now he’s studying hard and doing really well. Hopefully it wont be long until there is another passionate conservationist out in the bush making a positive difference for the wildlife.


Animals Asia

The program run by the dog and cat team in Guangzhou is also going very well! They gave some public talks in Chengdu last week about farmed and performing animals and there were more than 100 in attendance. A great boost for them, showing that more and more people are becoming interested in animal welfare 😁


Seventeenth Time Lucky? – CoP 17


Sue and I on the first day of the conference, looking relaxed and happy, little did we know what was coming our way…the clue was in the title – CITES – T for trade, and trade in animals! not a W for welfare in sight.


As the 17th CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP17) has drawn to a close this is what Born Free Foundation President and CEO had to say in a televised interview which is a must watch!

Will Travers Wraps up CITES #CoP2017     


Here is Will Travers’ closing statement at the conference:

“Thank you Madame Chair

I am speaking on behalf of the 100 member organisations of the Species Survival Network.

Madame Chair, may I also start by congratulating the Honourable Minister and Republic of S Africa for hosting this excellent Conference of the Parties.

I also want to thank all delegates for their hard work, together with the chairs of committees 1 and 2, and for your efforts Madame Chair.

I also want to express our appreciation to the Secretary General and all members of the CITES Secrétariat for keeping us on track and overcoming challenges along the way. And our thanks also go to the excellent translators.

Madame Chair, I would like to take this opportunity to reflect briefly on the outcomes of this conference.

CITES is a continuum where matters sometimes move speedily and sometimes take a long time to reach a conclusion. I recall, for example, that we have been discussing the impact of trade on African Grey Parrots for many, many years but it was at this CoP that Parties eventually agreed to place the species on Appendix 1. In addition, the Parties have acted decisively to include all eight species of pangolin in Appendix 1

CITES has brought its focus to bear in a powerful and significant way by listing in Appendix II the entire genus, over 300 species of Dalbergia, which have been, over a long period, subject to heavy and negative trade.

This demonstrates that sometimes this Convention can react firmly when circumstances demand.

We have also seen proposals that might have made matters worse for some of our most iconic species, rejected.

We have witnessed some lost opportunities that, to many in the outside world, will seem hard to understand. Madame Chair, I was attended CoP 13 in 2004 when a proposal to list African lions on Appendix 1 was withdrawn. That was at a time when the population of wild lions across Africa was probably double what it is today.   Now we have perhaps 20,000 wild lions and it seems somewhat bizarre to many that a new lion-listing proposal, presented by so many African Range States, was rejected.

Furthermore, at a CoP where we have rightly confirmed the process for ending the intensive breeding of tigers in captivity, we have reaffirmed the acceptability of the captive breeding and commercial sale of African lion bones into international trade, as a surrogate for tiger bone.

 Consistency is vitally important.

 As is courage.

The decision by the Government of Botswana to voluntarily treat the largest African elephant population as if they are on Appendix 1 is to be applauded as is the robust way that the Government of the People’s Republic of China has addressed the issue of domestic Ivory markets.

Madame Chair, we must never lose sight of the fact that the decisions made by delegates here have real-world impacts far beyond these conference halls. Whether on wildlife law enforcement, demand control, the survival of species, or the welfare of individual living animals.

And, of course, they may also have an impact on the security of those who risk and sometimes lose their lives protecting the species we care so much about – a thousand Rangers and wardens in the last 10 years.

In conclusion Madame Chair. I have often been asked whether CITES should continue, to which I say a resounding yes. This Convention may not be perfect. It may be complex and challenging. It may be misunderstood. It may not always reflect the desires and aspirations of citizens around the world. But, Madame Chair, it is the only Treaty we, and the animals and plants, have got. Were it not to exist I doubt we could create it anew.

So we must work with it. Support it. Demonstrate its relevance. Strengthen it. And make sure that as far as humanly possible it contributes to ensuring that the amazing array of wild animals and plants that inspire us, and with whom we share our one, single, world, are here for future generations to admire.

Thank you Madame Chair and, on behalf of the SSN, I look forward to seeing many familiar CITES faces at CoP18, which I hope will be hosted for the first time by the beautiful island of Sri Lanka.”


Sue Olsen’s take on it all:

It’s taken a few days to recover since arriving home from the conference and here is Sue Olsen’s (my sister and founder of OAT) words of reflection which sum up all of our views here at OAT.

During the conference (pictured above) unsurprisingly, Sue had some very strong opinions, but luckily I made sure the mic was unplugged so we weren’t kicked out or sent to jail! 😳😳😳

“I would like to say how honoured and proud I am to have attended my first CITIES with Will and the amazing Born Free team. I have witnessed first hand the incredible value of BFF and SSN’s participation here and indeed that of many other anti trade organisations. 

I has been a huge learning curve personally, and whilst it’s been interesting, I can honestly say it has not been an enjoyable experience. As someone rightly pointed out to me, this is not my spiritual home. If I had my way there would be no trade in animals at all as I believe they are not ours to commoditise. But then I am a bit of a purist and sadly we live in a realistic world.

Of course, this is a trade convention, so it’s all about trade,  but the fact that the commodity is animals, and that there is little or no emphasis on welfare, I find very distressing. Wading through the list of thousands of beautiful endangered species, who’s survival and well-being is based purely on their commercial value, I find quite surreal. God help the thousands of other species who aren’t even listed and therefore aren’t protected at all. Begin surrounded by hunting organisations, pet trade organisations, those involved in live animal trade and their body parts, and even consumptive “conservationists”, has been challenging to say the least. 

However, what has been truly inspiring, is to see the level of professionalism, dedication, passion and pure tenacity of those opposing trade. It is crucial that the likes of BFF and SSN continue their vital work in this arena and they should be loudly applauded for what they are achieving in an incredibly frustrating, complex and somewhat hostile environment. Thank goodness we have them, for the sake of animals and humanity in general, they are extraordinary.  There is a definite consensus that the tides are changing and the veterans believe this was a very successful CoP for those on our side.

And thats a wrap on OAT’s first CITES experience – and what an eye opener it  was! A saddened but not disheartened OAT Oke……… Much work to be done, onward and upward!

Conservation Education

OAT are so happy to have been able to help provide these children with an Environmental Education School Visit this week AND delighted to hear they got the chance to see a leopard and lion on their game drive. 🦁🎓 WELL DONE also to Mafungausti for your wonderful poem “The Voice of Conservation” – a budding young conservation activist in the making we hope……

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Stop the traffic!

HOT OFF THE PRESS! All 8 species of Pangolin have just been upgraded to Appendix 1 at CITES, securing them a much stronger level of global protection.

Officially the most trafficked animal in the world, the Pangolin has been in the headlines recently alongside Elephants and Rhinos as the CITES conference got underway.  Lisa Hywood (www.tikkihywoodtrust.org) our friend from the Tikki Hywood Trust has been at Cites, fighting for their protection! Well done to Lisa and all the others there on behalf of the Pangolin, what a great result!!

We will be joining Lisa and organisations such as Species Survival Network (www.ssn.org) and African Elephant Coalition (www.africanelephantcoalition.org) who will be representing many of the species that the projects we support strive to protect. We are all hoping for great results across the board, helping to put an end to the trade of these animals and their body parts. Sue and I head there tomorrow and will be on the side lines looking, listening and learning….. We will be there as members of SSN and are excited to see their president, Will Travers in action!

Have a look at this 1 minute video to hear Lisa talking about Pangolins and to see some footage of these intriguing animals.

BBC article

If you want to find out more about Cites watch this great video from the Born Free Foundation explaining it all…..

Cites Explained