Sunday, 28 June 2020

Pangolins - On the road to extinction

In the 21st Century with all the wonders of modern medicine and science from robotic surgery to face, limb and organ transplants, functioning prosthetic limbs and cochlear implants not to mention vaccines it really is appalling that some people still believe that a piece of Keratin, hair, cartilage or ivory hacked from an endangered animal can have medicinal and magical properties.

There are eight species of pangolin: four found in Asia and four found in Africa. In both regions these mammals have traditionally been killed for their meat and scales which are said to have various medicinal properties from supposedly increasing blood circulation and lactation in pregnant women to treating physical and psychological disorders.

I’ve seen many animals in my travels but never a Pangolin. I have however sadly plunged my hands into a bag of seized pangolin scales and despaired at the loss of life.  The scales resemble those found on fir cones and vary in size depending on where on the Pangolin they came from.

The numbers are shocking and we are decimating our planet for what? Just reading the recently published report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (Link below) it is difficult to comprehend how any animal can possibly survive when 100’s of thousands of their species are being killed almost annually.

I urge everyone to read the report below and support those organisations such as TRAFFIC and The African Wildlife Foundation working hard to combat the trade in all endangered organisms.

UNODC, Wildlife Crime: Pangolin scales, 2020. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

It is believed that around 70% of emerging diseases are zoonotic – that is they originate in animals and are subsequently transmitted to humans with the general opinion being that wet markets trading in wild animals for human consumption are the primary vector.
The outbreak of Covid-19 has been linked to a coronavirus found in wild bats which jumped to humans via an intermediary with Pangolins – scaly anteaters living in Asia and Africa – among the likely suspects.
Pangolins remain the most trafficked mammal in the world despite the international ban on the trade of all pangolin species since January 2017.

 One operation last April seized 25 tonnes of African pangolin scales - representing an estimated 50,000 dead pangolins - with a market value of some seven million dollars. Between 2014 and 2018, the equivalent of 370,000 pangolins were seized globally.
The above photo shows 14 tons of Pangolin scales seized in Singapore in 2019.

The above is just a snapshot of the frightening  report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the full report can be found using the link below.

Link to the report : 

African Wildlife Foundation

Friday, 26 June 2020

Vetting new staff.

In this day and age of the internet, social media and professional websites like LinkedIn there really is no excuse for taking a CV or Resume at face value.Anyone can talk up their achievements and say basically anything they like but a smart employer takes independent steps to verify any claims made.

This pre-employment screening should work both ways , with the potential candidate also vetting the organisation they may be working for. For example, is it a completely new position or will you be replacing and existing or former employee ? If the latter is the case ask yourself why are they leaving and try to do some digging.

For Employers

Look at the CV or  resume and just see if the dates make sense. We all know about making sure to enquire about significant gaps but also what about overlapping dates ? It is highly unlikely an individual can hold significant positions in two large organisations at the same time or even freelance whilst working full time with one organisation. It can be possible but you should certainly explore what the arrangement was or even if it formally existed, after all if you are employing someone then you want their full attention for the money you are paying them.

Sit back and read through the resume a few times and get a feeling for it. Does it look like a logical progression or is it jumping around ? Varied experience can be a good thing but most people tend to stick in an area they know best. Do the skill sets appear to be what you need ? They may have done a tiny bit of  investigation and enforcement but if the rest of their experience is teaching husbandry it is unlikely they will cut it if what you are looking for is an RSPCA type Inspector. It takes a special individual to be able to work on their own in hostile environments with little back-up and even more so in a different country. In my experience you have to get at least 5 years under your belt working as a cruelty investigator and prosecutor before you are  competent to be able to handle almost any situation you come across.

And on that note whilst many people like the idea of working in a foreign country the reality can be very different. If the individual you are considering has never spent more than a few weeks outside the UK then how are they likely to cope with living permanently overseas ?  My first experience volunteering and working overseas was in a disaster zone with no running water, sleeping on fishing netting outside under a mosquito net and drinking bottled water. Subsequent experiences have not always been much better, for instance living in a run down allegedly haunted house on the edge of the jungle sandwiched between a Chinese and an Indian cemetery.

Use Social Media and Google to  do a basic name check. If someone is claiming to have 'worked' in dozens of countries over 20 years there should be quite a lot on the internet backing this up. For instance if you Google 'Glyn Roberts RSPCA  Animal Welfare' the first two pages you come to relate almost exclusively to my work (not surprisingly you may say) and back up the claims I make for my experience. Leaving aside the self generated publicity - website, LinkedIn profile etc - there should be independent articles confirming any claims made. Just in the first two pages of the search results you can find a Guardian Newspaper article dating back to 2005 along with BBC news links, a Malaysian Radio show I did and numerous newspaper articles from Bermuda and elsewhere.

Now all this does not necessarily confirm anything other than the dates on the resume are accurate and that the individual was in fact where he or she  said they  were , doing what he or she said they were  doing but it does add credibility to a  work record.

Check references . This may seem obvious but it is often overlooked. Recently I was recruiting a deputy and had to go through a number of resumes that were submitted. The obvious first choice got my employers quite excited as he seemed perfect . Using Google I was able to confirm his identity and some of his resume (mostly college activities) but hit a snag with his work history. On the face of it this matched up although I was unable to approach his current employer ( not a major concern as no-one wants their boss to know they are thinking of leaving). His previous jobs seemed very short on contact details with just a company name, town and work period. No matter how I tried I was unable to verify his previous employment and even the one company where he listed himself as a supervisor that actually seemed to exist had no knowledge of him. This on top of a background check showing that he had motoring offences was enough to push him down the list of candidates.

Also don't just go with the details that potential candidates supply, check for yourself the current address and HR contacts for the organisation your applicant currently works for. For all you know you could be e-mailing a friend within the company who has nothing to do with the management structure and no authority to vouch for the individual but does have a seemingly legitimate company e-mail. 

Work shadowing. Depending on how sensitive the work is spending a day or so with your shortlisted candidates might be worthwhile. It may seem overkill for an admin job but if you have a small team a day or half a day working with a potential employee could be invaluable in seeing how they fit it and cope with the work.

For Employees

Now most of the above relates to the employer but not exclusively so. Think of all the British Football (Soccer to my American readers) clubs that go through 2-3 (or more) managers a season. Would you really want to work for an employer that would throw you under the bus at the first sign of things going wrong. Similarly Google the potential employer and job position and see what comes up. A high turnover of staff or numerous reports of poor practices should make you think twice before handing in that resume .

That is not to say that the organisation is necessary at fault. Take for example a case where an organisation fired a number of staff seemingly with no grounds. By all means investigate news reports surrounding the organisation and firing but also perhaps Google the sacked employees name and see what comes up. You might find out (if it was a historic incident) that subsequently those employees had issues with more recent employers which would help put perspective on things.

The bottom line is that with all the open source information out there from charity accounts, meeting minutes, news websites and the internet both employer and employee should be able to find a suitable fit for each other.

Good luck and best wishes to everyone working in the field of animal welfare and conservation. I salute you.

Take care.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

RSPCA Inspector Mike Reid - Final Call

2016 has started off badly with the very sad news that another of my colleagues has died.

Mike Reid had been called out at the height of Storm Imogen to check on  a flock of seabirds that had apparently been forced down onto rocks and were being battered by the high winds and heavy seas.

There would likely have been very little that anyone could have done given the conditions and it may well have been that they were weathering the storm in a normal manner but no RSPCA Inspector could take that chance and certainly not Mike.

Sadly his RSPCA vehicle was found nearby the following morning  and after days of extensive searching by the Police ,  Coastguard and the RSPCA it has been presumed that he was swept out to sea.

Although originally from the Wirral Mike had been one of the Cornish based RSPCA Inspectors for most of his career and we regularly met at joint group meetings, training and rescues. You usually heard him before you saw him as his infectious laugh always proceeded him into any room.

One of the few really genuine 'nice guys' it has been my pleasure to know. 

Hopefully the RSPCA will institute a rescue award in his name that will ensure his memory and devotion to duty lives on with each new intake of RSPCA Inspectors. 

RSPCA Inspector Mike Reid - End of watch February 7th 2016.

Monday, 2 March 2015


It does seem that years and years of experience counts for very little these days and everyone wants paper qualifications which can certainly be an indication of knowledge but not necessarily competency.

I started working with animals long before I left school and was employed from 17 onwards working in a veterinary surgery so next year it will be 30 years working in the field of animal welfare - scary !

Sadly the RSPCA didn't go down the external certification route until just before I left so despite all those years experience I don't have any paper qualifications to show for all the jumping off cliffs, complex investigations, court appearances, driver training and boat handling (apart from a Royal Yachting Association level 2 Power boat handling certificate somewhere).

Obviously , and as you can see from earlier posts I have numerous RSPCA commendations and awards which I'm immensely proud of along with a fair few letters of appreciation from members of the public but not really any professional qualifications.

I would however  back myself against anyone in an investigation and prosecution scenario and must be almost unique in that I've worked as an (R)SPCA Inspector in 3 Countries.

The UK

And Bermuda

For the past 12 months I've taken a step back from front line animal welfare and have been studying for a qualification in a slightly different field and can now officially put CRCST after my name.

It is unlikely most people will know what a Certified Registered Central Service Technician is but if you have been in hospital for an operation (or even possibly to the dentist ) you will have benefited from the work of a Central Service Technician (or Sterile Service Technician in the UK).

Basically Central Service Technicians deal with all the surgical instruments that are used in hospitals and operations and are responsible for collecting them after the operation, decontaminating, inspecting, assembling instruments sets, repackaging, sterilising and distributing them back out again to the Operating Theatres. In some hospitals duties also include the stores and general medical supplies as well.

Certainly a very interesting field and still very relevant and useful to my passion for animal welfare. The study reminded me of the time in Sri Lanka during the first Tsunami back in 2004/5 when I was volunteering at a mobile field clinic , cleaning and reprocessing the instruments in basic conditions.

Lets hope I put these new qualifications to good use in 2015.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Dr Neil Burnie another great animal advocate and friend lost.

After leaving Bermuda last year I regularly check in on the Royal Gazette website to keep up to date on what is happening and Skype with friends but nothing prepared me for the shock of finding out Neil had died doing what he loved most - diving.

I worked closely with Neil in Bermuda on numerous investigations and he always had time to stop and chat. Many an evening I'd been called out to an injured stray cat and met him at his surgery and ended up chatting for hours in the car park. He never seemed in a rush and rarely if ever billed the SPCA for his call outs.

He was one of those people who had an amazing passion for life and was always bouncing off the walls. One of his many many talents was music and he could seemingly play any musical instrument he put his hands on. You would find him at street parties and events wandering around with a saxophone around his neck or if you were really lucky he would pull out his harmonica and just start riffing. 

His timing sometimes could leave a lot to be desired and I well remember the day when we were just leaving magistrates court and he decided it would be a good time to play a tune. No sooner had the inner courtroom door closed then he started playing some blues , walking through the court building, through the metal detector and out into the street. Only Neil could get away with something like that.

'Diego' is just one of the hundreds of animals he examined for me in my 2 1/2 years in Bermuda. 

A truly amazing, unique man. 

He had just finished filming a TV show called 'Ocean Vet' and I'm sure it would have been a massive hit and resulted in him travelling the world (even more than he already did) and becoming a Superstar not just in Bermuda and the marine community.

Here he is before he actually managed to get his shot at television - quite prophetic.

Dr Burnie - Filmed at the Bermuda Aquarium

Another amazing friend I'll never get to speak to again.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013


Lots of interesting adventures since leaving the Bermuda SPCA, one of which was volunteering at a cat sanctuary on an island off the coast of Belize.
Six weeks living in a hut on the beach trying to avoid (unsuccessfully) getting eaten alive by sand flies. Compensated by the fabulous views and a dock surrounded by tropical fish and stingrays.
Fabulous snorkeling when the weather wasn't tipping down with rain (which is did constantly at least 50% of the time)

Treated myself to a guided snorkel tour on the reef 2 miles offshore with a dodgy tour guide who just moored the sail boat and took us swimming up to half a mile away from the boat actually over the top of the reef and into the rough water on the other side. The swell was bouncing us all over the place and one minute we were 5 feet above the coral and the next we were dropped down on top of it.

I was bleeding so much that I had my own personal shoal of fish hovering around and even got nipped once or twice as I was waiting my turn to climb back on the boat. Good job I brought a decent first aid kit. So the moral of the story is only go out with reputable guides.

Although I helped out with the cats most of my time was spent helping another volunteer Gavin with some much needed structural improvements. The shelter has rental cabins for the backpackers which help fund the food for the cats and we started improving the shower and toilet facilities. Unfortunately the water table was so high that the hardest part was digging the footings for the shower-block walls which filled with water within 4-5 minutes.

Certainly a worthwhile experience.

Lots of new plans for 2014. I've got a commission for a series of articles in a pet magazine as well as a new job in a new location so watch this space.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Inspector Deb Large . An Inspiration and sadly missed.

It was with great sadness that I found out  that an amazing friend and colleague Deb Large from Hereford passed away on 2nd October following a long illness.

Deb was an inspiration to myself and colleagues when we were first posted to Wales as Probationary RSPCA Inspectors way back in 1994. An equine expert, Scuba Diver and a dead shot with a shotgun Deb was always up to something.

We worked together on a number of large and complex equine investigations and prosecutions and she was the go-to person for local knowledge after working in Hereford and surrounding counties for most of her career.

She was a good friend and whilst working all around the world has it's advantages one of the biggest sadness's that I experience is not being able to keep in touch as much as I'd like with friends like Deb.

 I last spoke to Deb a few weeks before and I knew she was having problems and I was hoping to see her when I got back to the UK in December sadly this was not to be.

The animal welfare community has lost another dedicated guardian. I will miss you Deb.

If any readers to this blog want a fallen SPCA Inspector mentioned please get in touch and I will be honoured to include their information.