1. What is Born Free USA? Where else in the world is Born Free?
Born Free USA is a nationally recognized leader in animal welfare and wildlife conservation. Through litigation, legislation, and public education, Born Free USA leads vital campaigns against animals in entertainment, exotic “pets,” trapping and fur, and the destructive international wildlife trade. Born Free’s Primate Sanctuary in Texas is home to more than 500 primates rescued from laboratories, roadside zoos, and private possession.
Born Free USA brings to America the message of “compassionate conservation” — the vision of the U.K.-based Born Free Foundation, established in 1984 by Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, stars of the iconic film Born Free, along with their son Will Travers, now CEO of both organizations. Born Free’s mission is to end suffering of wild animals in captivity, conserve threatened and endangered species, and encourage compassionate conservation globally.
There is a “Born Free” presence in the US and UK and Kenya with full offices, and a newly-former Born Free Ethiopia working primarily on lion conservation and protection and the establishment of a new wildlife center there. We also support projects in South Africa, Tanzania, Cameroon, India, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere.
2. What projects is Born Free USA currently working on?
Born Free USA has a wide portfolio of projects currently underway. We are petitioning, in partnership with other organizations, the US Department of the Interior to list the African lion as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act. This will be an important step in halting the drastic decline in African lion numbers in recent decades – since 1980, the continent-wide population is thought to have declined by nearly 50% and as few as 23,000 lions may remain today. Commercial importation of lion parts and products and “trophies” from lion hunts are major culprits in the species’ decline.
Additionally, we have just released a major trapping investigation that shows in graphic detail the barbaric impact of trapping in America. Fox, raccoons, mink, bears, bobcats, and other species – as well as companion animals such as domestic cats – have faced gruesome deaths in these traps. The trapper shows no mercy as he literally stomps the life out of these helpless wild animals.
And we are working at the state and federal level for important legislative changes to protect animals. In New York, for instance, we are spearheading two bills of note. One would prohibit the importation f the flesh or parts of certain wild animals, popularly commercialized in the “bushmeat” trade. African forests especially are being plundered of their wildlife, in part because of the influx of foreign logging companies, and animals are being slaughtered, smoked, and sold as meat. New York should not be a legal market for this wildlife trade. Similarly, New York is one of only 5 states that has no regulation or prohibition on sale of bear gallbladders and bile, which are used in traditional Asian medicines and high-end toiletries. Bears in America are poached in the wild, their abdomens ripped open, and the galls snatched and sold – while the rest of the animal is left to rot. Galls can fetch literally thousands of dollars on the black market. Meanwhile, Asiatic black bear galls are smuggled into America, despite a global ban on their sale because of the threats to the species.
3. What is the most rewarding part working with Born Free USA?
There is a definite thrill in being able to work for a noble cause with an organization I respect. And while there are extremely difficult parts of the work – most notably the dire images of cruelty that I am faced to confront on a daily basis, there is great reward in knowing that each day of my professional career is dedicated to ending animal suffering. I really want to create a more compassionate America, and working for Born Free USA gives me the outlet to do just that.
4. Can you talk about the independent fashion competition that is sponsored by Born Free USA?
Born Free USA wants to encourage young designers to create fashion collections with compassion. So we established this competition to get them to do so! One of the exciting parts of all this work is that we have established a talented group of judges, which includes, for instance, Elizabeth Emanuel, who designed Princess Diana’s wedding dress. So we’re really working hard to call attention to the fact that you can be fashionable without being cruel.
5. What’s next for Born Free USA?
We will be following through on all of these projects to protect lions and wild furbearers and bears to be sure. But we are also keeping an eye on the animals, especially elephants, languishing in zoos or forced to perform in circuses. We are tracking incidents involving exotic animals kept as “pets” to show both consumers and legislators that wildlife belongs in the wild, not in people’s homes or backyards. And we are working to rescue and care for individual animals, such as the 500 monkeys who are peacefully retired at the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary in Texas. There, these animals formerly kept as pets or used in laboratories can find a home for life without fear of ill-treatment at the hands of humans.
Sadly, there is a seemingly never-ending stream of work that we are forced to undertake – I long for the day when I am unemployed because all of the horrible things humans do to animals have ended! But until then, we will keep up our dynamic and determined efforts to stop cruelty, save species, and Keep Wildlife in the Wild.®