From mother to son: Will Travers embraces his legacy

Will Travers OBE, founder of The Born Free Foundation.

Will Travers OBE, founder of The Born Free Foundation.

Will Travers OBE is an internationally renowned wildlife expert who has dedicated his life to wildlife issues, since he lived in Kenya while his parents, Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers, made the film Born Free (1966). In 1984, he co-founded The Born Free Foundation, which works to stop individual wild animal suffering and protect threatened species worldwide.

On October 7, 2017, during the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, which took the form of a moving silent vigil, Travers stood up to address the crowd about rhino poaching in Africa and Asia. This is what he said.

“The greatest impact of poaching remains in South Africa where, despite massive efforts by the state and private conservancies, conservationists, organisations, individuals, the international community, it’s likely that more than 1,000 rhino will probably be poached by the end of this year.

That will the 5th year in a row that the number poached will be over 1,000. If my predictions are right, then, by the end of this year. 5 per cent of the rhino in South Africa in 2017 will have been poached. 

It’s a rate greater than the number born to replace them so the population is in decline. 

Travers spoke at this year's moving silent vigil for the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos. Picture: Bel Jacobs.

Travers spoke at this year's moving silent vigil for the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos. Picture: Bel Jacobs.

However, the situation is made worse by one relatively new factor. 

[Farmer] John Hume is the most successful private rhino captive breeder in South Africa. He has an estimated 1,700 rhino in his possession and his recipe for saving the rhino is to breed them, cut off the horns and then sell the horn. Breeding is legal; the selling of horn is not. Until recently. In 2017, Mr Hume challenged the national moratorium on the domestic sale of rhino and won. 

In August, Mr Hume held his first auction for horn and reportedly sold about half a ton of horn for half a million dollars to private buyers. At a time, when most countries have understood the fatal link between legal markets for ivory and ivory poaching in South Africa, the rainbow nation seems to be deciding that selling rhino horn is ok.

In my view, legalising rhino horn will only add fuel to the poaching fire. Some say the rhino horn trade ban isn’t [effective] but it was. I’ll give your some numbers. In 2000, just 12 rhino were poached in south Africa. Between 2000 and 2007, 130 rhino in total were poached. That’s an average of 16 a year.

But in 2007, it was rumoured in South East Asia that rhino horn was not only a fever reducer and a possible potency enhancer but that it could cure cancer.

Between 2007 and 2016, a total of 6,102 rhino were poached in South Africa.

Rhino horn doesn’t cure cancer, headaches. It doesn’t sort our your hangover. It’s not a recreational drug and it’s not an investment - unless you’re sick in the head.

Only surviving male northern white rhino is put under armed guard 24 hours a day. Picture: AP.

Only surviving male northern white rhino is put under armed guard 24 hours a day. Picture: AP.

My friends, the world has always been a bit mad but it now seems it now seems a bit more mad. We’ve abandoned things that were working, we risk the lives of wild animals and people on speculative ventures. 

We still think it’s ok to strive for perpetual growth and deplete the planet’s resources without understanding the consequences. We choose politicians who treat the environment as a low priority or, if you’re unfortunate enough to be an American citizen, no priority. 

After 33 years of doing this, I honestly believe that, if we leave it up to the elected representatives and the bureaucracies they surround themselves with, things will not get done.

Or they will get done, at the last minute, when the problem has become a crisis. But by then, it might be too late. 

So it is up to us. The silent vigil you participated in is important. Marching is important. Petitions are important. Letters to no 10 are important. 

But most important of all is that we take our destiny and the destiny of our fellow passengers into our own hands and become part of the movement for change, a movement built on compassionate conservation, equality, respect, integrity, honesty and action.

The tigers, the lions, the cheetahs, they need us. The whales and dolphins, they need us, The animals brutally trapped for fur, they need us. The animals locked up or used for entertainment, they need us. Elephants need us, rhinos need us and - to misquote the famous speech made by John f Kennedy - ask not what the planet can do for you, but what you can do for the planet. it starts now. Thank you.” 

remembering rhinos.jpg

On November 1st, 2017, to celebrate the launch of the Remembering Rhinos charity picture book, a special evening about rhino conservation and photography will take place at the prestigious Royal Geographical Society, London.

The event will be introduced by Will Travers OBE, President of Born Free Foundation and as well as a presentation of the images from the book, will include talks by Saving the Survivors founder, vet and photographer Johan Marais and former Wildlife Photographer of the Year Steve Winter. 

The founder of Remembering Rhinos and Remembering Elephants Margot Raggett will compere the evening. The evening will culminate in an auction of some of the images from the book. The books themselves will also be on sale with some of the photographers available to sign them.


ALL profits from the evening will go to rhino conservation in Africa and Asia.  Tickets from £25.07. Buy tickets online here 

Remembering Rhinos Exhibition - La Galleria, London, 30th October – 11th November 

Remembering Rhinos is the follow up to the enormously popular Remembering Elephants book and exhibition. Like its predecessor, it features images donated by many of the world’s top wildlife photographers, this time of rhinos. Books and prints will be on sale supporting our rhino-protection work. Free entry. Open 10am-5pm each day. 

La Galleria Pall Mall, 5b Pall Mall, 30 Royal Opera Arcade, London SW1Y 4UY 

Tel 0207 930 8069 W 

The Born Free Foundation, visit

Twitter: @willtravers and @bffoundation

Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, visit

Twitter: @EleRhinoMarch