Posted in Animals and conservation, Charity, Elephants, Volunteering Overseas

Conservation is a non-caged world

Conservation is a non-caged world – what does that mean?

During the research of The Zanzibar Moon I found the realities of today’s conservation efforts don’t reflect those of years gone by (say about 30 years). And that’s a good thing. We really didn’t understand the harm we were doing, particularly with circuses and zoos (instead of sanctuaries with lots of space and natural habitat).

The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust baby elephants
Elephants from The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust are nurtured until they can be rehabilitated back into the wild.

When I was young it was a treat to go to a circus, though I must admit I was never comfortable seeing caged lions and elephants shackled and swaying. I loved animals, and always have, so I wanted to see them, but I knew something wasn’t right. They didn’t look happy and even as a young child I sensed this. I guess watching many African and Australian wildlife shows imprinted in me the need for wildlife to have wide open spaces, wilderness and freedom. Many councils, including Gold Coast City Council banned circuses from having exotic animals on their land but this only started as recent as 2009.

I was about six-years old (1970) when my family visited Bullens Animal World or African Lion Safari. I remember wanting to get out of the car to pat the lions. Dad of course said, “No way.” That’s how glamorised wild animals were then. Why would I think such a thing was possible? Look what happened to a lady recently who did that (I was going to link the video but no one needs to see that). For instance in 1975 five lionesses escaped Bullens, terrifying the area. One killed a dog, but it could have been much worse, what if it was a child. And then that poor lioness (who killed the dog) was shot. Later a bear was shot after also escaping. It seems that with these escapes, either the animals weren’t happy or the park was mismanaged (probably both).

Anyway, I remember the animals roaming wild and I loved that memory, but it’s bittersweet now. I do not know how well the animals were treated, but let’s face it, these were African animals, not Australian, so should they have ever been sent here? Stafford Bullen, the founder (ironic because my maiden name is Stafford) also ran circuses (and we now know how badly some of those animals were treated). I’ll never forget the bucket loads of tears I shed watching Water for Elephants. That horrible metal hook was beyond cruel.

There was probably big money in keeping exotic animals and I wonder now why we ever thought that was humane. I ponder those beautiful animals today and if they lead a tortured life. I believe some of their carers probably had their hearts in the right place but we knew so little then about animal well-being. Now we know better and should strive to treat them better.

I visited a Zoo in my late teens and realising that, this particular zoo, was cruel and the animals neglected (and in tiny cages). The impact of caged animals is worse than if we were caged (and we wouldn’t like that either). We’re used to rooms and smaller spaces, wild animals are not. They also need to socialise naturally, hunt, breed, look after their young and do so in their authentic environment.

At least now with new conservation in mind Taronga Western Plains Zoo has the same concept of wild plains similar to the animal’s natural environment. They are trying to help endangered species survive. The education programs go a long way in ensuring that endangered species do not become extinct. I was discussing this with a friend recently, who pointed out, “If we don’t see animals in zoos or such, how do we form a love for them?” That’s a good point.

I think if we support the right establishments by researching their animal care and environmental message before we visit them. It’s the same with eco-tourism and sustainable tourism. If you want to support a worthy cause make sure you know that any volunteerism is for the benefit of the wildlife and environment not the organisers. Ask questions like:

  • Do they have sustainability programs?
  • Have they won any responsible tourism awards?
  • Are they educating the locals and tourists to better understand sustainability?
  • Do they care about the footprint impact of the tourist on keeping things green?
  • Are they ensuring that water is not wasted?
  • Do they keep the animals in the wild, or provide a proper sanctuary for those recovering from poaching and other harm?
  • Are they reducing poverty ?
  • Are they using environmental initiatives that are working?
  • Are they a reputable organisation who has integrity?

I hope that if you choose to enjoy and eco-friendly holiday that you keep these things in mind and help our beautiful planet as you enjoy the experience. If you want to volunteer with animals here’s one worth looking into Wildlife Act.

Posted in Animals and conservation, Charity, Elephants, Happiness

There’s still time to give a gift that keeps on giving.

It’s Christmas Eve but it’s not too late for the most valuable presents of all.

We used to always buy a gift and put it under the Kmart Wishing Tree. My youngest, Blake would help pick the gift and I enjoyed watching him giving to a child who didn’t have the same opportunities as him. He’s 21 now and asked if we were going to do it this year.

I said, “It’s okay we’ve done our giving this year by sponsoring our elephant Tundani and a staff member at Umoja Orphanage Kenya.” Plus, there is no way I’m going back to the shopping centre in the madness that is Christmas Eve. “We’ll check out if we can do it online.”

The chances of carpark shopping rage, shopping trolleys with a life of their own hitting my car, crazy women running me over (that actually happened at Robina Shopping Centre and lucky her bonnet only clipped me and I wasn’t hurt. And no she didn’t even stop to check on me), so no I’ll keep safe and finish my giving at home.

It’s the 29th year of Kmart Wishing Tree and if you can’t make it into a store today you can still donate online. All gifts are distributed by The Salvation Army and Mission Australia. It helps families who can’t afford Christmas gifts to enjoy their Christmas and reFoster parent program the david sheldrick wildlife trust. Elephant.ceive something nice.

Last week I re-sponsored our baby elephant Tundani. Tundani is part of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Baby Elephant Foster Parent Program. These elephants have been orphans (often through poaching) and the DSWT have carers who first rescue the babies, hand-rear them at the nursery and gradually reintroduce them to wild herds and transition them back into their natural wild life. Each elephant has its own personality just like a human child. I’ve found the greatest joy of being a foster parent to Tundani is seeing his personal journey through the diaries of his carers. DSWT keep extensive records of the orphans’ progress and plenty of photos as well. It’s a gift of giving that you and your family will get so much joy from and hopefully elephants will not become extinct.


If you’d rather be involved with something closer to home, you could volunteer at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. From meet and greet of visitors to helping out at the Wildlife Hospital there’s plenty to do for our own Australian Wildlife. You can also foster an endangered native Australian animal like bilby, echidna, wombat and Koala.

If you read this blog regularly you’ll know of my support for Umoja Orphanage Kenya (founded by Australian Cathy Booth). You can do all sorts of sponsorship but their Christmas appeal is about sponsoring the staff. For as little as $5 a week you can help this wonderful cause that, not only helps orphans in Ukanda, Kenya, but the community in the surrounding area. This is a self-sustainable orphanage project that helps break the cycle of poverty. You can set up a recurring donation via Rotary at

While most of us are enjoying a nice home, copious amounts of food and alcohol, pressies, family and friends; spare a thought for those who have very little, particularly the homeless. You can give them a gift by donations or volunteering your time. The Bill Hoyer House was opened on the Gold Coast 20th December. You can go online to donate for the accommodation and support of homeless youth. For more information on other homeless support services the Uniting Care Community have hubs both ends of the Gold Coast.

My favourite giving gifts list:

So giving doesn’t need a wrapped present. It just needs to be heartfelt and meaningful.

Enjoy your Christmas whatever your religion, culture or country. I wish for you happiness, health, shelter, love and kindness, not just at Christmas, but always.