Letters: London Zoo

A zoo is the wrong place to spend millions on tigers
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After the opening of London Zoo's controversial Gorilla Kingdom (£5.3m), the zoo's plans for its Sumatran tigers seem set to raise the temperature even higher ("Warring tigers leave London Zoo with a £5m bill", 1 October).

The venerable captive animal institution cites aggression and lack of reproductive interest between a male and female tiger as justification to redevelop its big cat exhibits. However, a requirement was recently imposed by zoo inspectors that plans for a new outdoor tiger paddock must be submitted. Whatever the motivation, plans to redevelop the 1970s Big Cat Terraces (at vast expense) fail to address several fundamental issues.

While male and female tigers may tolerate each other in the wild, 24-hour enforced proximity is a different matter. It is unsurprising that aggression occurs. What is perhaps more surprising is that, despite the relative ease with which tigers can be bred in captivity (as evidenced by the thousands of captive tigers languishing in Thailand, China and the US), London Zoo has failed to breed their Sumatran tigers for at least eight years. The advanced age of the zoo's "bad-tempered" female, Sarah, reportedly 14 years old, may be one explanation. The miserly size of their "habitat" may be another. But whatever the reasons, we should be concerned by the Zoo's proposals.

The glut of captive tigers worldwide has done nothing to address tiger conservation in the wild, so captive-breeding is not the answer. And spending millions of pounds on a new big cat exhibit at London Zoo will only drain resources and effort away from what should be our priority – investment in real tiger conservation in the wild.

Will Travers

CEO, Born Free Foundation, Horsham, West Sussex

Drug firms' cash for lobby groups

The Independent is funded via advertising revenues by all manner of British industries. Would that then mean that if the airline industry was worried about fuel prices, or the energy industry was worried about a windfall tax, you would feel compelled to lobby on their behalf? I suspect not.

Yet in your article "Drug firms bankroll attacks on NHS" (1 October), you suggest that a number of charities lobby on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry simply because they benefit from some pharmaceutical funding – in the cases of some of the charities accused, this accounts for less than 1 per cent of their revenue.

All these groups are reputable charities, who are striving to help those in need. The pharmaceutical industry is committed to doing its bit, operating under the strict voluntary regulations that govern the funding of patient groups by the industry, which ensure the greatest levels of transparency and responsibility.

Patient groups witness the benefits that new medicines can bring to people's lives. When they campaign for greater availability of these medicines, it is on the patients', and not the pharmaceutical industry's behalf.

Chris Brinsmead

President, The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, London SW1

There are two ways of making money: either pile them high and sell them cheap to 100 per cent of the population or mark them up and sell them to 5-10 per cent. In the case of the pharmaceutical industry you probably have to fund more failures to get a blockbuster drug, but the same principle applies.

Currently most drugs are priced with the American market in mind, and today even they only have under 50 per cent of their population insured with full cover for all the expensive new drugs and are beginning to ask for a change in the pricing of drugs.

For the past three years I have been trying to find out why, with the size of the NHS market, there can't be a better negotiation of sizeable discounts in return for access to a greater proportion of the population than the 5-10 per cent figure for the first years of most new drugs.

R T D Oliver

Professor Emeritus in Medical Oncology, Queen Mary University of London

It is entirely legitimate for patients to campaign to change NHS priorities. However, drug companies are known to have wholly created patient groups to act as "third-party advocates". As health PR practitioners explain, patient groups help to "defuse industry critics by delivering positive messages", "influence changes in healthcare policy" and "speed the approval process for new therapies."

"Without such allies," they warn, "a sceptical journalist may see a company's messages as self-serving and describe them as such."

Third-party advocacy is a long-established technique in the public relations armoury, not just in the health sector. Greater transparency is needed in lobbying to reveal the funding of third-party groups by corporate interests.

Professor David Miller

SpinWatch, Glasgow

After the crash,a time to build

The end of the Bradford & Bingley bank means that another project of the Thatcher years has crashed and burned. Demutualisation was viewed by a large section of the electorate at the time as a wanton act of greed, theft and short-termism, taking an axe to solid, well-run building societies that had survived world wars and global financial chaos. The electorate finally became repelled by the cruelty, greed and injustice of Thatcherism and threw the Tories out, but then the Labour Party devoted its decade in power to giving Thatcherism a makeover.

Never mind lagging a pensioner, if the Labour Party is serious about winning the next election, it must now push through a really large-scale, country-wide social and affordable house-building programme. Decent housing is the rock upon which social justice is built.

There is no better time than now for contra-cyclical government spending, starting a virtuous circle of employment, business survival and taxation income from increased economic activity. It will be absolutely fatal to leave the new start for David Cameron to claim as his own. Labour must seize the day, before the Tories seize the next 20 years.

John Boulton

Edgware, Middlesex

Rupert Read's reconstruction (letter, 1 October) of a conversation between the eponymous heroes of the former Bradford and Bingley building society's advertising is inaccurate. The then management never intended to demutualise, but failed to set up adequate defences against carpetbaggers who forced the vote that sealed the society's fate.

The carpetbaggers will long since have taken their profits. leaving the more loyal former members as small shareholders. As such, we must accept the rough-and-tumble of equity investment. Some of us have bought shares through the rights issue with a vague notion of helping out an old friend. I feel we do have something of a grievance, with the disappearance of this asset in the nationalisation.

Michael Crawford

Bingley, West Yorkshire

Schools: try what money will do

The discussion of the comparative merits of the Swedish and UK education systems (The Big Question, 1 October) highlights an anomaly in our system. This is the disparity in spending per capita between secondary and primary students. Your figures show that in Sweden funding of primary students is 98 per cent that of secondary, while in the UK it is only 64 per cent.

Maybe addressing this issue would in the longer term make further disruptive change to our education system unnecessary.

Peter Lawrence

London W13

The experience of Gordon Brown

David Cameron said character and judgement are more important than experience. He should have given due credit to Gordon Brown's experience, which includes the following.

He encouraged personal borrowing up to £1,000bn, fuelled by unsustainable house price rises. He spent £100bn on Private Finance Initiatives which constitutes further hidden borrowing that will waste billions for decades to come.

He has taken £40bn from private pension schemes, causing many to be cancelled. He bodged the 10p income tax reform. His key initiative, the tax credit system, has wasted £2.8bn of which half has been written off.

Based, presumably, on this vast experience, Brown has announced new ways of spending our taxes – internet access for deprived children and new funding for nursery schools.

Peter Fines

Market Rasen, Lincolnshire

While this government has not reduced taxes, the population has enjoyed an increasingly comfortable standard of living. The revenue has been hugely invested in the National Health Service, education, the police, transport infrastructure and pensions for the elderly.

What would have happened if the Conservatives had been in power for the past five years? Taxes would probably have been reduced and the NHS and education starved of investment. A Conservative Chancellor would have been responsible for setting interest rates, with the result that house-price inflation would have been even greater. The fat cats in the City would have been enjoying an even greater bonanza and financial regulation would have been even more lax – if that is possible.

Where this Government has certainly failed is in following George Bush and his henchmen into Iraq and Afghanistan – a move enthusiastically supported by the Conservative Party.

The UK's current economic problems are based on matters outside the control of government. The Labour Party has never had my vote, but I do think that this government has handled the economy reasonably well and I am tired of the political point-scoring in Birmingham. It is time that politicians and the media made constructive contributions to the solution of this potentially disastrous situation.

Colin McLellan

Teddington, Middlesex

David Cameron has adopted the slogan "man with a plan". This is plagiarised from Hugh Gaitskell, who used it in the 1959 general election. He didn't win.

Robin Paice

Southsea, Hampshire


Champion of race

A new postage stamp celebrates the birth-control pioneer Marie Stopes. Yet in the 1950s she argued that no society should allow "the racially negligent . . . and the very lowest and worst members of the community to produce innumerable tens of thousands of warped and inferior infants". In 1935 she attended the Nazis' Berlin Congress on Population Science.

James Bruce


Metaphorical hole

Would you please institute an immediate ban on the use of the term "black hole" to describe a financial deficit ("Government refuses to increase civil list despite £6.5m black hole in royal accounts", 25 September). On a trivial level, following conventional accounting practice, it should be a "red hole". On a deeper level, the term is ridiculously inappropriate. Anything that goes into a black hole serves only to make it larger. However, if the government does allocate £6.5m additional money, the deficit would disappear (and the resulting Hawking radiation would illuminate the Queen's delighted smile).

Graeme Gemmill


In the mood

Chris Sanderson (letter, 1 October) says that the subjunctive is dying out of English. This incident, a couple of days ago, should cheer him up. I was walking along the road beside the local community centre when a man asked me to cross the road. Replying to my surprised look, he pointed to an approaching lorry carrying an entire building and said: "I'd rather he not drive beside you."

Jean Elliott

Upminster, Essex

Horrors in the wash

I have used an infallible sock-selection technique for decades (letter, 2 October). But I'm afraid I can't reveal any details just yet. What I'd like to know is, who created the microchip in my washing machine which detects all socks and underwear which have been turned the right way out and turns them inside out, thus rendering pointless all the time I spend on the utility room floor turning them right side out in the first place?

James Vickers

Redcar, Cleveland

Further to conflict with duvet covers in the wash, for real human conflict watch my husband attempting to insert an actual duvet into the cover.

Jan Schofield

Maidstone, Kent

Eternal truths

Stephen Glover's Media section article (29 September), discussing the changes in style and content of The Independent, featured a copy of the first front page from October 1986. The main headlines I could make out were "Conservatives try to halt sterling slide", "Crime wave will engulf Britain"and "Terrorist 'helped by Syrian envoy'". Amazing how little has changed, however you try to dress it.

John Wyn-Evans

London E8