News & Views

Irradaway Dolphins


After a 10km cycle ride in the blistering Laos heat, we finally arrived, dripping with sweat, at the vast expanse of the Mekong river. Stretching out to the horizon and scattered with small bushy islands as far as the eye can see, one can easily comprehend why this stretch of the river has been dubbed “The 4000 Islands.” Me and my two travelling companions are here to see the elusive Irradaway dolphin, one of the top attractions here in Don Kong. We all clamber into a slightly sketchy looking boat and are off on our way. It’s not long before we spot 3 dolphins, their curved, finned backs rising gracefully out of the water. Sadly, the encounter is extremely short lived.; they dive down and swim away from us, eventually resurfacing across the invisible boarder into Cambodian waters. “We no follow,” the driver informs us, shaking his head, “they in Cambodia now.” On our return to the mainland, our luck takes a turn for the worse. The noisy engine begins to splutter and fail, leaving us at the mercy of the river current, and for quite some time we drift hopelessly in the wrong direction. To make matters worse, distant forks of lighting spark downwards from the black sky, followed by mighty cracks of thunder. A storm is coming. Fat drops of rain begin pelting us from above as the wind picks up rapidly. The man driving the boat gives a little whimper (never a good sign) as he tries desperately to restart the engine. “We must stop here, too dangerous!” He tells us, as we collide onto one of the many islands. Stranded, shivering and slightly concerned, we wait for what seems like hours in the middle of the tropical storm.

Eventually we make it back to the mainland wondering if the trip was really worth it. But this is Laos; things rarely go exactly as planned, so I am grateful we got to see the dolphins at all. After all, there are only 5 Irradaway dolphins left in the country, meaning that we saw 60% of the entire Laos population. This fact is surprising, given the cultural and spiritual significance of the dolphins to Laos and Cambodian people. In fact, Irradaway Dolphins are pretty much the only animals exempt from ending up on a dinner plate here. According to local folklore, the creatures are sacred; human souls in dolphin skin. The story tells of a beautiful maiden with the body of a fish who was forced to marry a magical Python. Distraught and desperate to avoid her fate, she decided to cast herself into the Mekong river, but her attempt at suicide failed and she was transformed into a dolphin. The Dolphins’ significance to local communities goes far beyond the mythology, for they also provide an important source of income for communities involved in dolphin-watching ecotourism. Furthermore, their protection is crucial to the overall health of the Mekong river. 

So the question begs, why are their numbers dwindling so drastically, and what can be done to save them? As with much aquatic life, the main threat to the dolphins are fishing nets. Bycatch and accidental capture in fishing gear is the primary cause of their endangered status. The World Wildlife Fund is working with locals to reduce Bycatch in a number of ways. They teach local communities the importance of conservation, develop community fishery management zones, and reduce fishing pressure by supporting alternative livelihood development. It is yet to be seen if these threat reduction strategies will be successful in preserving the local population, but the WWF remains optimistic, and their work continues to this day. (If you would like to support their efforts you can donate to the

All this talk of wildlife loss and endangered species has gotten me thinking about the global implications. If we cannot save such an enigmatic creature as the Irradaway dolphin, what hope do we have for lesser known endangered creatures that are also crucial to ecosystems? What will become of the ugly Kakapo fish? What is the fate of the lesser known Leaping Lesbian Lizards? Some 110,000 species are now listed as critically endangered, but we only really hear about the most iconic and majestic creatures; the tigers, the pandas, the dolphins. Even I am guilty of this; I am yet to write a blog post about an obscure species in need of saving. I suppose charities select the most charismatic animals in the hope of leveraging their inherent cuteness to create broader conservation awareness. This seems like a logical strategy, rather than providing an eclectic sampling of species to show the vast diversity of animals at risk. However, there has been much debate over whether this is the best tactic to use in conservation efforts. Chris Packham caused much controversy over his statement claiming that pandas should be left to face extinction. Writing for the Guardian, he argues that “conservation, both nationally and globally, has a limited amount of resources, and I think we’re going to have to make some hard, pragmatic choices… of course, it’s easier to raise money for something fluffy… But we have to accept that some species are stronger than others.” 

Many environmentalists argue that we must focus on the more iconic animals in order to get people’s attention and raise awareness. But I can’t help seeing where Packham is coming from. Limited resources must surely go to the animals with the highest chance of survival, and their worth should be measured by their importance to the ecosystem, rather than their capacity to pull at people’s heart strings. The Irrawaddy dolphin, however, manages to combine both qualities. They are a not only a symbol of the magnificent if the Mekong river, but are also crucial to the general health of the entire ecosystem. I feel honoured to have been able to see them in the wild and would encourage people to support efforts to conserve them.

Free the Bears

The heat was oppressive as I clambered through the dense, steaming jungle. I had arrived at the Kung Si Falls, just a 40 minute tuk tuk ride from the bustling capital city of Laos, Luang Prabang. After paying a modest entry fee, I followed a twisting path through the trees, stepping over crumbling rocks and tree-roots the size of anacondas. As I walked along the trail, excited to see the famous waterfalls, I discovered I was surrounded by huge fenced off enclosures with hammocks, tree houses and streams running through them. Curiosity pulled me closer. Peering through the fence I saw fuzzy, friendly-looking creatures with light brown muzzles and bright little eyes peeping through their fur… Asiatic Black Bears! They had a slow, laid-back nature, and seemed happy and content in their surroundings. Some were lounging around in hammocks, others lazily splashing in the cool fresh-water streams, or climbing up man-made tree houses. As I watched the animals in delight I got talking to Sarah, a lovely enthusiastic volunteer, who told me all about the sanctuary.

The sanctuary is part of the Free the Bears Fund, a charity that provides support to a wide range of projects across Asia. The rescued bears at the sanctuary had been saved from a number of horrific situations; some were kept as “pets” in terrible conditions, others were found in traps that poachers had left out, and many were rescued from the bear bile industry. Sarah’s passion for the animals shone through, as she passionately told me about some of the bears’ individual personality traits. There was Kobi, a 3 legged male who lost a leg in a trap, but didn’t let his disability interfere with his love life. In fact, he was so wildly popular with the females he had to be separated from them, as they were driven wild with lust in his presence! There was Lyna, a shy older bear overcoming anxiety and agoraphobia after years of being kept alone in a tiny cage. I was even allowed access into the staff-only area to meet the orphaned cubs, who’s boisterous and playful nature was particularly endearing. Sarah explained to me that sadly the majority of the bears would not be able to be released back into the wild because of their familiarity with humans; the danger of them wondering back into villages was all too much to risk.

The main threat to bears in Laos, and indeed in many part of Asia, is the horrific bear bile industry. It is estimated that 12,000 bears are farmed for bile inChina,South Korea,Laos, Vietnam, andMyanmar. The digestive fluid produced in their livers has been used in traditional Asian medicine for thousands of years, and is known to be useful for treating liver and gall bladder conditions. Though there are now many readily available synthetic alternatives with the same medicinal properties, lack of education and the desire to uphold traditional practice means the bear bile industry is still very much thriving. Taking bears from the wild is obviously detrimental to the wild population of bears, but the other pressing issue is the amount of unnecessary pain and cruelty associated with bear bile farms. Bears are kept in tiny cages which are often too small for them to turn around in. Most of the bears will spend their entire lives, (up to 30 years) in these cages, until they die of starvation, dehydration, disease or malignant tumors. Typically, bear bile is extracted through crude methods, such as a metal rod which is jammed directly into the liver. More often than not, these wounds are left untreated. It’s hard to imagine the agony of a metal rod repeatedly slitting open your old, infected wound, never allowing you to have time to heal. All this, spent in a tiny, dirty, isolated cage. I know that this is extremely upsetting to think about, but it is the reality of life for many bears across Asia.

Luckily, there are ways you can help this situation. If you fancy a rewarding, life changing trip, you can volunteer at the Cambodia Free The Bears Sanctuary. Not only will this give you a once in a lifetime opportunity to work behind the scenes with these incredible animals, you will also be making a tangible difference. For more information, or to apply for this, contact Free the Bears at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Alternatively you can donate, become a member or sponsor a bear. To do any of this visit their website at

Tiger tales and the darker side of Eco-Tourism


Ella, one of our great volunteers, tells some of her tales from Thailand, as she reflects on eco-tourism and the things you can do to avoid animal mistreatment.

Recently, there has been a lot of media attention concerning unethical tourist attractions that exploit animals in countries like Thailand. Indeed, this is an extremely important issue that needs highlighting. Across Southeast Asia there are countless attractions that boast close contact with tigers, and allow you to ride elephants on dusty tracks through pristine jungles. It sounds too good to be true, and it is.


Tourist attractions like the infamous Tiger Temple (which has very recently been shut down) are cruel exploits, reducing magnificent creatures to mere objects of entertainment. The tigers are heavily sedated and beaten into submission. It has been reported that many of these attractions even cut tendons in the tigers legs in an attempt to limit their physical prowess and prevent them from running out of the enclosure or harming visitors. New born cubs are cruelly snatched from their mothers in order to prevent them from imprinting, making it much easier to control and dominate the tigers at an early age. Furthermore, the mere practice of keeping tigers in captivity, as opposed to living wild in the jungle, is detrimental to the indigenous tiger population which is already extremely depleted, if not completely non-existent, in many regions of Asia where they once thrived. Unfortunately tigers are not the only creatures who suffer at the hands of the animal tourism industry.


Countless Asian Elephants are ridden by tourists every day, and the process of turning elephants into submissive instruments of entertainment is absolutely horrifying. From an early age, the elephants are beaten, taught to associate metal hooks with pain, restrained in a tiny cage and abused so that they will accept being ridden by humans. This process is called "The Crush" with the main objective being literally to break their spirits. The cruelty doesn't end with this process. The elephants are kept in sub standard conditions throughout the rest of their long lives, in small enclosures tied in chains, with little or no veterinary care and limited access to water. They are forced to breed artificially and their babies are torn from mothers at an early age. Elephants are creatures of vast emotional intelligence and many are known to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder as a result of this treatment.


Recently, my travelling companion and I were riding scooters through the jungle near Pai, Northern Thailand, when we came across some sheds by the side if the road. There, we saw a few elephants standing hunched in the enclosure with chains around their feet. The poor animals had barely any room for manoeuvre, and no access to water despite the 40 degree heat. We both pulled over and one particular elephant turned to look at us with soulful eyes, gently reaching out her trunk for us to hold. It was the most touching, beautiful gesture of shared humanity and a moment I won't forget. The saddest part is that despite the trauma and suffering this poor creature had endured, it was still able to reach out, still willing to befriend us. There was almost a flicker of hope in her eyes. My friend told me she was close to tears, so we said our goodbyes and we went on our way. But the moment stuck with us. It was such a contrast to our experience at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary near Chiang Mai, Thailand.


So here is the good news. If you are travelling, there are places where you can see elephants in great conditions, living happy lives amongst their family. One such place is the sanctuary we went to. The elephants were free to roam where they pleased, with no hooks or chains, so at any point they could disappear into the forest if they wanted. (Our guide told us one male teenager had recently done so after being overwhelmed by the urge to find a mate.) At places like this, the humans and elephants have a reciprocal relationship, a mutual agreement if you will. The elephants stay for the free food and the humans get money from visitors wishing for contact with the elephants.


Our day consisted of feeding the creatures, walking with them to the river, swimming with them and washing them. Honestly, the elephants seemed genuinely happy, playful and full of life; in stark contrast to the poor beasts we saw by the side of the road. I understand that a lot of tourists unknowingly feed unto the animal tourism trade due to simple ignorance. It dosen’t meant they are bad people, they just haven’t been educated. But after reading this you have no excuses! if you're travelling, or planning on going travelling I implore you to pay a little extra, do some research, and go to a proper sanctuary (one with no chains and no riding as this is actually very bad for their backs and posture). When it comes to seeing monkeys in shows or going to tiger petting zoos please just avoid it. Surely you don't want to contribute to such cruelty? Travelling is about absorbing local culture and enjoying nature, not feeding into negative industries. Thank you!

The EU referendum - what do our local MPs think?


The EU referendum is happening on the 23rd of June 2016. As the date is coming closer, the debate is heating up and there are arguments for staying in as well as leaving on both the right and the left side of the political spectrum. The EU has been criticised for being intransparent and undemocratic, for example lately in regards to the negotiations of the possible trade agreement between EU and USA TTIP. Besides, some economists suggest that the UK could do better economically without the restrictions coming from Brussels that concern standards in environment, health and safety, creating a freer market and more opportunities for businesses. The argument to leave is also supported by the worries of some people in the UK, which claim that the British welfare system is drained by unrestricted immigration within the EU, for example by workers from Eastern Europe.


Our local MPs seem to disagree with these positions. Here is what they think about whether or not to stay in the EU:


Caroline Lucas (Green Party, MP for Brighton Pavilion):


Caroline Lucas has voiced a strong preference for staying in the EU. Even though she understands much of the criticism, especially criticism coming from the left, such as the EU being undemocratic and intransparent, she thinks that the UK will only be worse off in isolation.


Of course the EU isn’t perfect—and clearly needs reforms. The austerity inflicted on Greece—and the harm it’s caused—reflects the current political trend among European governments at the top table in Brussels. The same is true for TTIP. It is right-wing governments, like the U.K.’s own, which are pushing it through—and if Britain were to go it alone we can be sure that the Conservative Party would look to sign ever more bilateral trade deals with exactly the same toxic terms.”


Therefore, Lucas strongly urges UK citizens to vote to remain, as she thinks that the UK can tackle the big crises like climate change, the refugee crisis and the failure of the financial system only in coalition with other EU countries. However, her call to stay in comes accompanied by a wish to radically reform the EU.


Peter Kyle (Labour, MP for Hove and Portslade):


Peter Kyle, too, strongly favours remaining in the EU. In a joint article of all three Brighton MPs (Kyle, Lucas and Kirby), they pointed out that it is crucial for the small businesses, which Brighton thrives from, to stay in. There are about 12.000 of these local businesses in Brighton and Hove that benefit from the economic stability and the access to a single market with 500 million consumers to export to which the EU offers. Leaving the EU would unsettle this economic stability and create huge uncertainty for businesses in Brighton, the MPs stress. Besides, it would harm the international flair that makes Brighton such a great and open-minded place:


“[...] we’re lucky to have so many talented people from other EU countries coming to our city to work in our cutting edge industries – a right that Brightonians also enjoy when they travel to other EU countries to work.”


Simon Kirby (Conservative, Kemptown):


Lastly, Simon Kirby also takes the position of remaining in the EU. This decision comes mainly from his role as party whip. He explains on his own website, that he believes there are strong arguments on both sides, but that he follows and supports the decision made by the Prime Minister. While he believes that Britain will be stronger in Europe, he states, that taking this position was a decision that was difficult to make.

So, all three Brighton and Hove MPs seem to agree on the issue:


“As MPs from three different parties we have many differences, but one thing we agree on is that our city is better off because of Britain’s membership of the European Union.”


If you’re still not convinced, here are some more great things that the EU does for the UK:


  • Jobs: And a whole load of them. 3.1 million British jobs are, according to a report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research published in October 2015, dependent on the EU. Plus, there is also the aforementioned single market of 500 million consumers which the EU provides, that comes handy for exporting products more easily. Additionally, the EU gives subsidies to British farmers, helping to create job stability in the agricultural sector.


  • Freedom of Movement: Because of the EU, UK citizens can travel, work and retire wherever they want in the EU. That makes holidays easier and safer but it also means better job perspectives for many EU citizens including those from the UK. And it is also a point that the roughly 750.000 Brits living in Spain would, presumably, agree with.


  • Consumer protection: There are equal consumer rights in all EU countries, which means UK citizens can shop anywhere in Europe with the same ensured transparency on the side of the seller and the same quality and safety of products. One example for this is the two-year guarantee on all products which EU residents enjoy.


  • Environmental protection: through common standards set by the EU, environmental issues have been brought up in the political agenda of national parliaments, like the UK’s. According to an analysis by Friends of the Earth, leaving the EU would have terrible consequences for the health of British nature and related to that the health of British people. It is because of policies which the EU has implemented, that we enjoy cleaner drinking water, cleaner beaches and cleaner air.


So, there are some reasons why staying in the EU isn’t so bad after all.

But, whatever you decide, make sure you vote! Voting takes place on the 23rd of June. If you are not already registered, you can register to vote here. If you are away on that date, for example at Glastonbury Festival, there is always the option of a postal vote. To vote by post, you need to apply by completing a postal application form and sending it to your local electoral registration office. The deadline to do so is on the 8th of June by 5pm.

Conscience: Taxes for peace Not War

We spoke with Holly Wallis, Parliamentary Officer with Conscience on the #PeaceTaxBill, that is due to be read in May.

Conscience: Taxes for peace Not War campaigns for individuals who want, in all good faith, to contribute their fair amount of tax, yet cannot reconcile their conscience with the deliberate killing the government sanctions and carries out in their name.

Ruth Cadbury MP is introducing a bill to Parliament on behalf of Conscience which would allow for the right of conscientious objection to military tax (COMT). The Taxes For Peace Bill would provide the freedom of conscience to those who are morally, ethically or religiously opposed to war to be able to re-direct the military portion of their taxes towards a fund designated for non-military security – a Peace Tax Fund.

100 years ago this year, the WW1 Military Service Act simultaneously introduced compulsory military service and the inclusive right to conscientious objection in Britain for the first time. Since 1916, the right to freedom of conscience has been recognised in every significant international treaty. The European Convention on Human Rights, United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the British Human Rights Act all testify that everyone has the right to “…freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”

Modern wars, however, are no longer fought with conscript armies in this country, but with professional armies, high-tech weapons, and the ideology of deterrence - paid for with our taxes. This is financial conscription with no right to object.

At a time when Britain is spending £105,000 of the taxpayer’s money every time it fires a Brimstone Missile, Conscience’s Bill recognises the right to invest in a culture of peace rather than war. It is a government’s duty to keep its people safe and secure, and that is something we should all contribute to financially. This does not mean, however, that this security can only be established through threat of violence and overseas killing. Peacebuilding is a more sustainable, effective and economic form of security. Investment in our planet is a method of prevention rather than cure.


  • Keep up to date with the progress of the #PeaceTaxBill on their Facebook page @ and Twitter @taxesforpeace

For more information on ways you can get involved in this campaign, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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