Monday, 26 September 2016

Sept 10th
Here I sit in Delhi Airport, waiting to get on a plane to Chandigarh. I have this habit of dividing journeys into stages. So for this first trip we are on stage five. I have seven flights in 11 days! Not my favourite thing I have to say. The weather was lovely when I left, and the dogs as wonderful as ever. Now is the time of year that we switch from the summer team of birds that have been flying since January, to the winter team.
Oxymil Pippa's new Spectacled Owl who is flying very well

We keep the summer team going until after the Falconry Weekend which we have just had. All in all considering the weather it went very well, and although we did not increase the numbers because the forecast on the Saturday was dreadful, we kept up to last year’s figures which I was relieved about. Actually the weather was nowhere near as bad as predicted – as usual!!!! However we really did know that we had diehard falconers and country people at the evening BBQ as we all stayed out for at least three hours in the pouring rain!! I did not have a dry stitch on by the end of it, at least I had put the dogs away thank goodness.

The Sunday was fine and all birds flew well, including all those invited birds that came with others. It really is a good show and the atmosphere is wonderful, assisted ably by those who attend and of course my staff who seem to enjoy it even though the run up is hard work.
The clear up went very well, all clean and tidy by the end of the day apart from the bins which went a couple of days later. I bought a second golf cart for the event and was amazed as what they can tow, a very heavy wheelie bin was nothing to them.

Now I am in India and Nepal for about twelve days, then home and looking forward to having my Sparrow Hawk out and a new Red Kite to fly now Muckle Rowe is in for moulting. It’s very weird not to be flying birds daily!!

Sept 14th
The Pre-release aviary in India
Now I am sitting at the vulture breeding centre in Pinjore. Staying at the Budgerigar Hotel with a big festival going on outside, very noisy!! We have been getting up at 5.30am each morning to be ready at the centre to catch up birds by 6.00am, after about 9.30am it is too hot to catch them without risk to the birds. So sleep is at a premium! We have one more day of it, and then a day of meetings. I am joined by Chris Bowden tomorrow and he and I will be travelling together to Nepal, so we then the train back to Delhi, which means if we get to the hotel by it will be a miracle. Our plane to Kathmandu leaves at about 6.45am, so we have to get to the airport the following day by about 4.30 – oh hooray!! And some people think I am having a bloody holiday!
Sept 16th
Its a great way to keep cool!
Well we did not get to a hotel, eventually we ended up going straight to the airport, so a night with no sleep, but a good G and T at some ungodly hour of the morning. We got to Kathmandu, caught the short flight to Bharatpur and were met by one of the BCN staff who is in charge of the release project in Nepal and drove to the hotel, only got lost about three times, but he got us there, so all power to him! We then dropped off our stuff, had a quick lunch and went to the Kasaura Vulture Conservation Breeding Centre so check that all was going to be ready to start the catch up at 6.00am the following morning. Another two days of 5.30 get up!
In the following two days we caught up all 57 vultures. We had had all the DNA sexing done previously and wanted to move them so that we had a balance of males and females. The skew of sexing in the two colony aviaries was marked and answered the questions of a lot of infertile eggs, which I was not surprised at. We ended up with 13 pairs in one colony aviary and 12 pairs in the other and seven spare females which would form the first group of vultures to be released – once permission had be granted for satellite tagging and the problems of the neighbouring States in India not being as free of diclofenac as they might be, being sorted.
The second last day was spend going to the vulture safe zone first created by Nepal, they lead the way in the creating of safe environments for the vultures. Interestingly not only in south asia, but also leading the US as we still have not managed to get lead banned in shooting and that is what is killing the California condors. So all things considering they are doing a sterling job. The people there working with the local community are amazing and have got everyone on side. This is the area where we are going to have the first release so we checked the site and chose a spot for the release aviary. There is a very good hide nearby as this is where the dead cows are placed once they die of natural causes (and guaranteed diclofenac free). So it is an ideal place for the release, apart from its proximity to the Indian border.
We stayed in a Home Stay which was very good apart from the mattress which was like rock! But then the mattresses in Pinjore are nearly that hard – I am going to take a Lillo next time! However other than that it was fine and we were treated to a jeep ride through the jungle and saw some very nice rhinos.
The following day we flew back to Kathmandu had various meetings with BCN, NT
NC and the government, stayed the night and got up early (just for a change!) to fly out. I flew to Delhi and then home, Chris flew to Delhi and then to Bangalore which is where he is living for the next three years before he comes home.
I finally got home at about 10.15pm and had a lovely greeting from Holly and Adam who picked me up from the station and an even better one from the dogs who were very pleased to see me – as I was to see them, not let me hasten to add that I was not pleased to see Adam and Holly as well! Jet lag still prevails!!
Wednesday, 24 August 2016
Nearly the end of August, what has happened to the year - it has vanished. We have had the most glorious summer weather and that has made a big difference in visitor numbers so we have been very busy. All birds are flying well and Hare (Indian Tawny Eagle) managed to find a thermal and get height!! Only the third time in 16 years! But it was a sight to see. Karis has been loving the weather although a couple of days ago when Fens Falconry brought some of their birds to rehearse for the Falconry Weekend which is now less than two weeks away, they put a very beautiful Ferruginous Buzzard on the lawn and Karis just hated it, I had to move him out of sight.

We have some lovely new birds coming along on the team. The Black Shouldered Kite that arrived last year is now flying and its a scream, it flies beautifully, although not always where you want it and as it comes into land it drops its legs and just looks hysterical, bit of a charmer really. The two new Luggers are doing well although have the usual Lugger temperament (touchy!). We have added one more Barbary and one more Lanner to the team - both bred here this year.

I gather there has been an article about Hen Harriers in the Sunday Times, I don't read newspapers because they bore me and because I consider that they are only really suitable to put under the birds in our hospital, in that way we put on them roughly what is in them and as usual this article proves my point. I did look up Johnathon Leake and interestingly he is not recommended by any other journalists, that could of course be a good thing!

The hen harrier, Britain’s rarest bird of prey, is to be bred in a “battery” farm similar to those used by the poultry industry

This remarkably stupid and extremely ill informed statement is how he leads on the article, which damns it from the start sadly. The interesting thing I find about newspapers is just how incredibly inaccurate they always are. You can even write the article for them and they will still get it wrong. My sister is married to a journalist in the US and they assure me that American journalists have to make sure their facts are right. What a shame UK journalists appear to be incapable of following suit. They are at times so inaccurate it beggars belief, and sadly they can damage things very easily by writing without checking facts. 

I went up north in July and was involved in satellite tagging two young Hen Harriers. Monitoring is a vital part of the conservation plan to see where these birds go and sadly if they get killed on Grouse moors, which we know happens. I have to say I really hope these two make it to breeding age and produce young themselves that would be very special.

Bank holiday weekend coming up in three days and we are praying that the weather holds - it plays such a huge part in good visitor numbers and we are nearly at the end of the school holidays so it is important. Although I love the autumn here as we have what is called the grey pound - people who have retired and want to go out when there are not a ton of children around, and generally they are lovely! I am flying at the Essex Dog Day on the sunday, so a trip round the M25, but they are such a nice show I don't mind.

I am struggling at the moment to find a venue in London to hold an event for our charity, I want to do it in December and be able to take a few birds to illustrate what we do. So far venues are either too expensive, have closed down, do not bother to reply, or are just unhelpful. Its very depressing as time is of the essence and I don't have much of time spare! 

India vulture trip looms next month I have to be away from September 9th to 22nd, and its a big chunk out of September, I hope I don't miss an Indian summer here. I wonder which Indian that really means - I will have to google it!

We have a lorry load of concrete arriving tomorrow, the new trailer to carry away all the compost to the composting place is working a treat so we are turning the old compost heap into a store for sand and gravel with a floor, so that should make life easier and waste less sand which is bloody

keeping cool in the hot weather!

The place is looking good although the grounds are suffering a little from lack of rain, however that is a problem I am very happy with.  

I managed to slip over in the weighing room a couple of weeks ago, thought I had broken my ankle, but it was just a bad sprain, and it is still being a pain. Hope it is fixed by the time I have to fly or it will be uncomfortable that is for sure.

Better get on with things to do for the Falconry Weekend! 
Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Agapanthus doesn't seem to care either way!
I think it’s a great shame that we are exiting Europe and interestingly a number of people that I know voted to go are now regretting it. One could only wish they had thought a little more before they had voted. I think we may live to regret it. I hear also that many young people are furious about it, and feel that we have let them down.  We should have done what Scotland did and give this vote to 16 year olds as well, at least they might have understood the importance and bothered to vote. Shame on any of you that did not vote. 

The exit certainly immediately closes a door for us at ICBP because it means we can no longer apply for grants from Europe to do our conservation work. It will probably mean that moving birds to other collections within Europe or to us here for fresh blood lines will also become much more difficult and expensive. One of my staff has just lost his house sale because of the exit and I gather that selling houses in London right now is a nightmare.

I do wonder if people think that all those immigrants that are living near Calais are now going to turn round and try to go somewhere else – somehow I doubt that, in fact it would not surprise me if France just let them through!

Wild Red Kite over ICBP
I watched Andrew Neal interviewing someone about the exit, he really is the most unpleasant character. Extremely rude, constantly interrupting and aggressive in his interviewing techniques. I find a number of TV ‘personality type’ interviewers to be much the same, they seem to consider their voice and opinion is more expert and important than the people they are lambasting, which I have to say generally I do most definitely not agree. I want to hear what the person being interviewed is saying not the news person. They are news people, and as I know from personal experience, they are sparing with the truth whenever it pleases them. Andrew Neal is most definitely in that camp, he really should do something about his hair, is it fake?

Will this lead to the breakup of the UK, possibly. Watch out now for another Scottish referendum on leaving the UK, if they do they will win this time. So I hope all those who voted to leave are going to be happy about that, again I suspect not. Will Northern Ireland do the same I wonder.

I am glad I went to that meeting with CITES in Brussels last month because I doubt I will be able to do that again, we won't have any voice or influence with European CITES now because we won't be Europe.

I repeat – what a shame and imagine the world with the two blond men in the running now, Johnson and Trump – good God what a disaster!

Will the American's vote for Trump, you would hope not, however I think the problem there is that having had a black president they will not want to go straight to a female one. There would have been more chance of that later. I can just see the Southern men (and women) saying 'we can't have a woman president'!
Monday, 13 June 2016
The time has come again to have a rant, mainly because I was denied it yesterday morning. So, yesterday at the Cheltenham Science Festival, which I spoke at last year, there was a one hour talk/discussion/forum in the BBC tent (with, I have to say, a lot of somewhat tedious noise from next door) covering the horizon programme about whether or not we should  close our Zoos.

Mauritius Kestrel saved by Captive Breeding
As you can imagine as someone who runs a zoo, I am in favour of WELL run zoos. I should say at this point that I do strongly believe that the Zoo Licensing Act desperately needs reforming and updating as it is very old and no longer fit for purpose. I also know that the zoo inspectors need reforming as well as some are demonstrably bad and few are specialist enough to be of use in my field. But that aside, good zoos are in my opinion very valuable for a number of reasons.

However like any of these TV programmes they are in essence biased before they even start to make them.

There were a number of issues brought up and I was late because I got the time wrong and the parking was a nightmare, so I ignored the sign that said we could not come in and did anyway. Liz Bonnin fronted the programme and the debate at the festival. The pictures up behind her were of her with the last of one of the Rhino species behind a huge set of bars, and apart from when we saw excerpts from her programme this stayed up all the way through, giving in my opinion a flavour of her and two of the people on the panel's opinions before we even started.

Two of the panel were for zoos, Kirsten from BIAZA and Sharon Redrobe the Director of Twycross Zoo, I don't know who the two anti zoos people were and at one point one of them denied being anti zoos, which if he was telling the truth I am blowed if I would want him on my side for anything!! The other was a bearded older chap wearing shorts, with somewhat unattractive legs I have to say, who was most definitely anti zoos.

California Condor saved by Captive Breeding
The first topic was large animals - Polar Bears, Elephant and so on, stereotypical behaviour and the housing of such animals, plus their longevity in captivity and their health problems. Sharon pointed out that most GOOD zoos and I do stress the word good as I know there are some very poor ones, particularly in my field, understand stereotyptic behaviour and work hard to make it some thing that we can manage. I nearly died of amazement when the bearded chap said that humans show the same behaviour when put in institutions and if we let them all out so they could make their own decisions about life they would become normal...................... really!!!

They then talked about the health and longevity of animals in zoos, they very obviously do not look at many other species because often many zoo animals live a great deal longer in captivity than they do in the wild. Whether or not this is a good thing is debatable, I knew many older humans who would have liked to have died earlier rather than hanging on for years. But one wonders did this group not know how unhealthy many of the wild populations of Tigers and Elephants are?? TB is rife in many wild specimens. Do they really think that all wild populations are well and healthy, because if they do, they need to do a little research.

Oriental White backed Vulture, kept going by Captive Breeding

They went on to discuss the 'Ark' philosophy, that is that zoos are keeping safe species that are not doing well in the wild, and various captive breeding programmes that have not fulfilled their objectives. As my field is birds of prey, I was particularly interested in what they said (and virtually blamed zoos) about the California Condor project, which I know very well. They basically blamed the failure of the programme on the fact that captive breeding programmes don't work anyway. And the bloke who did not have a beard said that it should have been done by addressing the problem at the same time. Idiot!!! We did not know what the underlying cause of their decline was!! There were only 22 individuals left at the end and that is far too small a population to be able to understand the reasons for them declining. It was not until a good number had been released that we finally were able to know that it was Lead Poisoning. And that as we all know is very difficult to solve because the shooting groups around the world refuse to believe that lead is toxic, no matter how much scientific proof there is to the contrary. So the NRA in the US which is a particularly powerful lobby will not allow the banning of a substance (lead) that is not only poisoning their wildlife - but also their children!!! One does wonder at their brain power, the only excuse they have of course is that they have been consuming lead for years! However were it not for that, the California Condor programme would be a huge success.

Then we had the education bit, and the anti brigade stated that zoos do no conservation education. They stated that there was no scientific proof that zoos are educating people to change their behaviour. Well first and foremost that is not the only aspect of education, there are many aspects that zoos do very well, I know we do. I aim for every visitor to leave my centre with a greater understanding of birds of prey, where they fit into our environment and how important they are.

Hooded Vulture now critically endangered
One member of the audience then stated that no zoo that she had taken her school do did any education, she felt that there was no one to assist her school and they were all useless. She has obviously never been here and is in my opinion going to the wrong zoos. Every school that comes here has a free guided tour, we work with what ever aspect of the curriculum they need and we try very hard to make sure that they have what they need.

 But let me just point this out to our teacher friend. She as a school teacher has the children under her care and influence for five days a week, 36 weeks of the year. We as a zoo have them for at the very most a day, and more likely two to three hours, so who exactly is better placed to change attitudes?  Yet when EVERY school party visits us the first thing I ask the children before their guided tour, is do they know the meaning of the word conservation or the meaning of the word habitat. 99% of the children do not know! Now who's responsibility is that? Mine as a zoo or the school as the institution that has more time with  these children than probably even than their parents?

Conservation education in zoos is not only done very well by all good zoos, but a great deal is done insitu - i.e. in the countries where the various zoos are working on conservation projects, so don't come out with the rubbish that you stated at the discussion, just look a little wider and don't expect zoos to change the behaviour of people, that is not easily within their remit, much as they would like to be able to do it.

There was then a discussion about whether or not zoos should only keep endangered species - again this showed enormous lack of understanding by the presenter and her allies against zoos. We at ICBP have not increased our species or made any significant changes in the last four years and yet by doing nothing we have increased our number of Red List species by five!!! The vulture crisis in South Asia is a classic case, closely followed by what is happening in Africa. Species that were thought of as common and nothing to be concerned about, are now Critically Endangered. It is nothing short of madness to wait until a species is on the Red List before doing something about it!! The risks are huge, once a species gets to low numbers the gene pool is compromised, the pressure is on for the poor unfortunate people who have the joy of trying to save the species and the costs go through the roof. Don't Wait, it is not a good idea.

Griffon Vulture, numbers hugely increased by zoo breeding
There were statements that zoos should put all the funds that they spend on good housing for their wildlife into conservation projects in other countries that need it. Just where do you think the funds would come from if a zoo had no animals?? You can hardly complain that zoo animals are not looked after well or housed appropriately and then tell zoos they should not be spending funds on doing so. That is, as were many of your statements hypocritical in the extreme. Humans have different interests, concerns or aspects of life that interest and emotionally hold them. Mine happens to be birds of prey, my sister is a doctor and looks after human health, I have no interest in human health, I think humans deserve every problem they face as they made them in the first place. I would not give funds to save people, I would and do give funds to save wildlife and the planet. I was dying to ask what the presenter and the two other anti's gave on a yearly basis towards conservation out of their wages!!

The final insult to me, apart from the guy in shorts stating that zoos were only there to entertain the public - how dare he come out with a statement like that!! He does not have an inkling of why we are here or what we do. He has never visited and has no right to make such a statement and I strongly refute it and can prove it on a daily basis. But worse he then got out one of the cardboard visual reality head sets that you can wear over your eyes, bung in your smart phone and hey presto, you can be in a forest with gorillas experiencing where they are and what they do. This he stated is the future of zoos and should be. WRONG wrong wrong. Smart Phones and virtual reality are giving young people completely the wrong ideas, they get to the point that virtual reality becomes the real thing. They are no longer interested or even believe in real reality.

We used to have good conversations when all the staff came down for coffee and toast each morning before we open. Now probably 60% of them are tapping away with their thumbs on their phones and the conversation and more importantly communication has gone. Someone said that in the next 100 years the only thing that will evolve in humans is their thumbs!!! Virtual reality is not and never will be a replacement for a real experience, and nor should it be. The only two advantages I can see with it is that once you are wearing that huge face mask you don't have to worry about wearing eye makeup as no one will see it. Better still because people may well in the future be out and about wearing the masks, as people are with headphones these days, with luck huge numbers of people will get run over by cars because they are not looking where they are going and that will reduce the population which is a really good thing in terms of conservation.


I have to say that keeping a weblog can at times become compulsive and at other times a chore. Sometimes I am berrated for not keeping it up and sometimes I get wonderful comments from people who follow the news of the Centre.

It is fun to share the daily goings on here, some good and some bad, some funny and some sad, but all a part of our daily lives.
And as I said before its a pretty cool to be here and it is a great place to visit, you should try coming and watching the birds and meeting the staff and of course the dogs.


An interesting video on Lead

An interesting video on Lead

I find it staggering that people who want to hunt don't see the value in changing their ammunition from lead to a safer product. We have stopped using lead in petrol, in paint, in our water pipes, but they still want to use lead - ah well, apparently eating it not only kills birds but leads to reduced intelligence in humans......................

NO ONE is asking you to stop legal and genuine hunting, they are just asking you to change your ammunition!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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