Born Free USA Blog
by Will Travers,
Chief Executive Officer
What can you say about a big-hearted bloke who has rescued dolphins, tigers, elephants and more and whose parents once helped a lion cub from a department store by caring for him in their backyard and engineering his rightful return to Africa? You can safely say that he's got great animal instincts! In 1984, Will Travers joined his parents — "Born Free" film stars Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers — to form what became The Born Free Foundation. With knowledge, passion and compassion dripping from his every word, Will's blogs are sure to make you embrace our crusade to Keep Wildlife in the Wild ®.
Eighty-eight years ago, a notoriously egocentric newspaperman with more money than sense established what became the largest private zoo in the world — in his back yard, no less! By 1937, the Great Depression and his own extravagant lifestyle had done a number on William Randolph Hearst’s fortunes, and the zoo started to shut down. Today, a few sheep, tahr goats and sambar (large Asian deer) graze on the hilly 82,000-acre central California coast property that contains Hearst Castle, a popular tourist destination.
About 80 zebras still roam there, too. Actually, make that about 77 zebras. Three who escaped last week were shot by nearby ranchers presumably concerned for their own animals’ safety. Presumably, because the zebras’ hides were quickly stripped and taken to be tanned. A cynic might infer that the shooters’ actual motive was home decorating rather than protecting livestock.
Compare that story with one from a few months ago in Ghana. At Mole National Park, where wild animals include elephants, antelope, monkeys and baboons, it was reported that park guards allegedly were shooting — and killing — neighboring farmers who had complained that animals were straying across park borders and ravaging their crops. One local youth association leader accused police of ignoring the shootings, saying, “It has now become so alarming the rate at which human beings are being sacrificed for animals.”
Mole is the country’s largest and most visited national park. Tourists go there to see the animals. Tourism is a growth industry in Ghana.
What’s a compassionate person to make of those two unsettling reports? May I suggest that the Hearst Castle incident shows that zoos are a bad idea, and not a new bad idea. Even their aftermath, their shadow, can take twisted and tragic turns. The Ghana item suggests that we need to make a far greater effort to find effective and compassionate conflict-resolution actions to reduce problems that will increasingly arise when shrinking populations of diverse, beautiful, charismatic creatures, the shrunken wilderness in which they try to live, the needs of local communities, and the desire of visitors to see the animals have created a combustible situation.
The bottom line: We must do better, everywhere, if we are to learn to live with wild animals.