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 Madame Chair, I was attended CoP 13 in 2004 when a proposal to list African lions on Appendix 1 was withdrawn.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 ( 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 ( and African Elephant Coalition ( 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 



1000 Voices – 1 Message!

I was happy to join the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos and to support Lilongwe Wildlife Trust on behalf of Malawi’s Elephants.


This was a timely march in the run up to CITES, The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (, which is taking place right now. My sister Sue Olsen and I will be attending the conference next week and crucial decisions will be made regarding the trade in ivory and rhino horn as well as many other species and their by products. We’ll update you from Cites next week, fingers crossed for positive outcomes. 03-copy

A huge crowd marched through London to the door of No. 10, to urge the government to take action on closing the UK’s ivory trade.

Elephants and rhinos face extinction unless all countries act together to ban their domestic trade in ivory and rhino horn and protect these species with the strongest possible measures. 🐘📢


Powerful speeches from Virginia McKenna and Dominic Dyer, from The Born Free Foundation and Malawi’s own Ngane, delivered powerful and heart felt messages on the subject.  Also speaking were world renown conservationist Ian Redmond OBE and Stanley Johnson, father of Boris Johnson.



All About the Ellies!

Poignant Words from the Prince
Yesterday Tusk’s Royal Patron Prince William spoke at London’s Shard about the plight of Elephants. His speech was broadcast live worldwide through Facebook and linked to John Scanlonin, the Secretary General for CITES in Johannesburg and Dr Handa, Chairman of ISPS Handa in Japan who also spoke. Check out their speech by clicking on the link below…
Global March for the Elephants & Rhinos
I’m sure after hearing what the Prince has to say you will want to JOIN US TOMORROW (Sat 24th Sept) at Cavendish square to March for the Elephants. I will be supporting the whole event and in particular giving a voice to Malawi’s elephants so if your there look out for one of my boards…..

Oh……what a night!

Animals Asia event – Ridgmount, 25th June 2016

A huge thank you to all those who attended OAT’s Animals Asia Event on Saturday 25th June. I think its safe to say a wonderful night was had by all and so lovely to hear that Animals Asia believe it to be the most beautiful party they’ve ever had!!!!!! All the credit must go to Sue, Catherine, Polly and Jono, between them they ‘Nailed’ this event and made a Great job of it. Well Done OATer’s! 😍👍🏼🎉


It was so much more than a “knees up.” Delicious, mainly vegan food and drinks were served outside and as the sun set over the North Downs ☀️ the guests gathered on the steps for inspirational talks from my amazing sister Sue Olsen, Founder of OAT, the gracious Virginia Mckenna, founder of Born Free Foundation, the captivating Jill Robinson, the founder of Animals Asia and passionate Peter Egan, Actor and AA Patron. They even got me to say a few words having just returned from my first trip to China and Vietnam to visit Jill and the AA team. Not being able to bring myself to share some of the horrors 😳 I had experienced I hope that what I didn’t say had as much impact as what I did manage to get out.


You could have heard a pin drop as Jill talked through her slides, horrific and astounding in equal measure.  Every time I learn more of what AA continue to achieve I find myself so fired up to find new ways to help. I’m sure it was painful for many to watch but by the number of tissues passed round, their reactions afterwards and generous donations received it seems that something great has been ignited.  Dogs, Cats, Bears and the Animals Asia team have a number of new life long friends. 😃


Due to the INCREDIBLE generosity of everyone who attended we managed to raise over £35,000!!!!! 👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼 A fantastic result which we are hugely thankful for and will make a big impact to AA’s important ongoing work, until the suffering ends….

We will update you before the end of the year on the impact of your generosity. Thank again from everyone at AA and OAT 😃

Rays of Hope…


The last part of of my Asian trip was spent in Vietnam with The Animals Asia teams on the ground. It’s been a Hell of a trip and an experience I’ll never forget.  Emotional to say the least.

The first few days were truly “dark”.  I visited domestic bear bile farms and saw first hand, beautiful Moon bears caged up on people’s property.  I know this is hard, and some of you are probably saying right now “I can’t look at this” but please read on. The more people are aware of these atrocities, and spread the word, the more chance there is of local and international pressure being exerted on governments to do something about it.  Also, by reading on you will see the ray of hope that amazing people, like Jill Robinson and her Animals Asia team,  are bringing for the future of these innocent animals. Be brave for the animals who have no choice, or voice.

The Dark Side

It felt like I was going back in time and travelling trough torture chambers of bygone years and I am not being dramatic here.  The groans of the bears, as we walked past was haunting. Many were bald from constantly rubbing their heads against the bars, driven to distraction being in a space barely big enough to move , year in and year out in temperatures of over 40 degrees and on top of this wearing a fur coat. Oh, and guess what, they starve their bears so that they produce more bile, and, they are not only kept for their bile but also for their paws (US$500 per paw) Aaaagggghhhh 😡😡😡

How dare we do this to animals…… how dare we 😪😪😪😪😪 Disgusting, Extremely upsetting, Cruel, Exploitative, in-humane, Wrong……. need I go on😳😡😡😡😞😞😪😪😪😡😡😡😳😳😳

These are not photos from archives, these are my personal pics, hot off the press. This disgusting business is happening right now.

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These cages are larger than the ones they used to be in. When the law changed recently, the government made the farmers move their bears into larger cages… kind hey?

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Other issues… Hanoi Zoo and Traditional Medicine Street

In addition to the bile farms, I also visited Hanoi zoo and one of the  Traditional Medicine Streets. On the street I was very easily able to source pangolin scales and bear bile, (both illegal) and it took 5 minutes for a local dealer to arrive with the goods. I said I would think about it and she gave me her business card and told me to contact her if I needed these items or indeed anything else…

The zoo was pitiful and it broke my heart to see 4 Asian elephants in a tiny enclosure but thanks to Animals Asia, who are working with the zoo to improve conditions for the animals, AA sponsored an electric fence and the previously chained Elephants are now at least able to move around.

In think its time I moved on to the bright side…

The Bright Side

Animals Asia have been working closely with the Vietnamese Government and they have recently agreed to phase out the Bear Bile industry over the next three years. Existing bear owners are allowed to keep their bears (like the ones I saw) and legally, are not allowed to farm them for bile. But needless to say this does still go on as its so difficult to police and is always open to corruption. Under some circumstances the bears can be rescued / confiscated and Animals Asia are constantly looking for ways to do this and are succeeding.  This will be a long hard road ahead but it does mean that more and more of these beautiful bears will need to be housed in the future and to maximise these opportunities, Animals Asia  will need to expand their existing sanctuary and if possible build more sanctuaries.

Animals Asia also work with local schools and communities educating the young, and not so young, on animals welfare issues and alternative remedies to bear bile.

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The Best Sanctuary ever!

Animals Asia’s existing Bear Sanctuary is situated within Tam Dao national park which is 90 mins north of Hanoi.  It’s a tropical  paradise, lush vegetation, birds, insects and a river runs right through the middle, its…… Beautiful 👍😀

There are currently 148 rescued bears here and remember,  they were previously in the exact same situation as those poor bears I visited at the bear farm a few days ago…… this must be heaven to them. There are still an estimated 1000 bears still in need of rescue 😞😞😪😪

This is the best way for humans to say sorry to these Bears ……. the best animal sanctuary I have ever seen. I’m thinking of buying a bear suit and trying to get accepted here as a resident. Only the best care and respect here for the Bears.

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We, OAT, are sponsoring a new enclosure soon to be built here. A beautiful location right next to the river. Work is due to begin in a months time and should take 6 months to complete. Many more enclosures will be needed though…

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What a beautiful way to finish an emotional trip to Asia.

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I will never give up trying to help these poor bears, still being farmed for their bile.😞😞

I am back home in the UK now, and looking forward to seeing some of you at our fund raising event, in aid of Animals Asia, this weekend.  Fingers crossed for good weather, but I must say I am enjoying the coolness right now!