Jordan had a key role in forming at least nine organizations in 48 years, most of which still exist
William Johnston Jordan, 97, known to the world as Bill Jordan, wildlife veterinarian, author, and founder or cofounder of a constellation of wildlife care projects spanning the globe, died on July 5, 2022, at the SSM Health/St. Mary’s Hospital in Verona, Wisconsin.
Born in Ireland, the son of Johnston and Elizabeth “Elsie” (McMechan) Jordan, Bill Jordan lived in Wisconsin off and on between long stretches in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
Becoming a U.S. citizen in 2015, Bill Jordan spent his final years at the Attic Angel Community, an assisted living home in Middleton, Wisconsin, painting wildlife, after a professional career of hands-on work with wildlife followed by more than 40 years of wildlife advocacy and activism.
From the Royal Dick to rural vet practice
Earning his undergraduate degree from Edinburgh University in Scotland, Bill Jordan remained in Edinburgh to obtain his veterinary diploma from the Royal Veterinary College in Edinburgh, founded by William Dick in 1823 and therefore nicknamed the Royal Dick.
Remaining at the Royal Dick as house surgeon for several years, Bill Jordan next became a lecturer for three years at Liverpool University.
There Bill Jordan met Brenda Ruth Foster, three years younger, daughter of Henry Joseph Foster and Ruth Cullis Foster, who were farmers in Wallasey, Cheshire.
Bill and Brenda married in Wallasey on February 2, 1950, after which they established a rural veterinary practice.
Chester Zoo vet
To that point their life trajectories would have seemed familiar to readers of the “James Herriot” novels and viewers of the All Creatures Great & Small BBC television series, created by retired fellow British rural veterinarian James Alfred Wright (1916-1995.
But the Jordans’ lives took a turn when Bill Jordan was appointed consultant veterinarian to the Chester Zoo.
Founded in 1931 by wheelchair-bound World War I veteran George Mottershead and his family, who were formerly market gardeners, the Chester Zoo was designed and built to be the most spacious and progressive in Britain, following the ideas of early zoo animal supplier turned zoo reformed Carl Hagenback and ethologist Heini Hediger.
By Bill Jordan’s years there, the Chester Zoo was already the biggest in Britain, at 111 acres. Expanding up to 130 acres, the Chester Zoo now houses approximately 21,000 animals, of about 500 species.
Captive Animal Protection Society
Bill Jordan contributed to the Chester Zoo reputation for innovation and excellence for more than a decade, in 1958 becoming a founding member and secretary of the British Veterinary Zoological Society.
The society was begun in part in response to the formation a year earlier of the Captive Animal Protection Society, by retired teacher and zoo critic Irene Heaton––an organization of which the Jordans were decades later actively supportive, now known as Freedom for Animals.
Indeed, Bill Jordan served on the Captive Animal Protection Society board of directors for a time, either resigning or retiring in 2000.
While still at the Chester Zoo, Bill and Brenda Jordan themselves gradually became lastingly disillusioned with the whole idea of trying to keep wildlife in captivity, especially in other than their natural habitats.
From the Shah of Iran to vicunas in the high Andes
Bill and Brenda Jordan in 1964 relocated to Persia for six years, where Bill Jordan served as consultant veterinary clinician to the government of Iran and as personal veterinarian to the Shah of Iran.
The Jordans moved on to Pretoria University, South Africa, where Bill Jordan taught for two years.
A stint in the high Andes working with Peruvian conservationist Felipe Benavides (1917-1991) and World Wildlife Fund cofounder Iain MacPhail to save the vicuna followed.
As many as 400,000 vicuna, a camelid close relative of the llama, guanaco, and alpaca, had historically roamed the high Andres, from Ecuador to Chile, but they had been hunted down to fewer than 6,000 by the time Benevides, with the help of MacPhail, won endangered species protection for them in 1964. There are now as many as 350,000 vicuna.
Bull & condor
Jordan while in the Andes became one of the first outsiders to report having seen bull-and-condor fighting first hand in modern times, in which an Andean condor, symbolically representing the indigenous Andean people, is tethered to the back of a bull, representing the Spanish conquistadores who subjugated Peru in 1532-1533.
Historically the condor reportedly always escaped uninjured.
Bull-and-condor fights were a custom that had apparently all but died out before the 1941 publication of Yawar Fiesta, the first novel by José María Arguedas Altamirano (1911-1969), a leader of the “indigenista” movement in Latin American literature who shot himself in 1969.
A flurry of reportage published by the New York Times, The Guardian, and National Public Radio in 2013-2014 indicated that bull-and-condor fights had been revived at as many as 50 remote mountain villages. The fights have now become a tourist attraction.
From Peru, the Jordans returned to Britain.
Finding work with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Bill Jordan began as a deputy veterinarian, founded and headed the RSPCA wildlife department, and founded both the RSPCA Wild Animals Advisory Committee and the RSPCA Animal Experimentation Advisory Committee.
Under Bill Jordan, the Wildlife Department of the Royal SPCA became responsible for overseeing the welfare of more than a million animals per year who passed through the RSPCA hostel at Heathrow Airport.
Appalled by the high mortality and terrible conditions endured by these animals, Jordan drafted international guidelines for wildlife transport for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Opposed Canadian seal hunt
Jordan meanwhile became involved in trying to stop the annual Atlantic Canada seal hunt, through the efforts of Margaret Hodgson Gurd, a longtime member of the Canadian SPCA board of directors.
During Gurd’s tenure, Canadian SPCA general manager Jacques Vallée and New Brunswick SPCA officer Brian Davies in March 1965 visited the seal hunt, inspiring Davies to form the Save The Seals Fund, which four years later became the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
Gurd became personally involved in January 1967, persuading Bill Jordan to visit the seal hunt in 1978, a year after Paul Watson split with Greenpeace over tactical differences in opposing the seal hunt and formed the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
Recalled Watson, “I had $120,000 dollars in my pocket given to me by Cleveland Amory, the President of the Fund for Animals. My mission: to find a ship to take into the ice fields off Eastern Canada to defend the seals.
“In Yorkshire, England, I found the Westella, a recently retired side trawler. I offered the $120,000. Thus I had my first ship. Thanks to Bill Jordan, the Royal SPCA gave us a grant. We fixed the ship up, took on some fuel, and launched the first Sea Shepherd voyage to the Gulf of St. Lawrence to protect baby harp seals.”
Whale & Dolphin Conservation Society
Being preoccupied with land animal issues, Bill Jordan had relatively little to do with marine mammal issues thereafter, but in 1987 helped longtime Greenpeace activist and author Kieran Mulvaney to cofound the Whale & Dolphin Conservation Society.
Gurd, meanwhile, was barred from visiting and volunteering at the Canadian SPCA, now better known as the Montreal SPCA, after vocal disagreements with the succession of factions who took over the organization in the early 1990s.
When Gurd died in March 1999 in Montreal at approximately age 90, Bill Jordan was among the few who warmly remembered her work.
The Last Great Wild Beast Show
Drawing heavily from his Chester Zoo experience, Bill Jordan and zoo consultant Stefan Ormrod (1944-1995), later chief wildlife inspector for the Royal SPCA, in 1978 co-authored The Last Great Wild Beast Show: A Discussion on the Failure of British Animal Collections.
Among the first of many books critiquing zoos and zoo practices published during the dawning years of the animal rights movement, The Last Great Wild Beast Show “laid the ground for the passage of the landmark Zoo Licensing Act in Great Britain in 1981,” World Animal Protection Society India project manager Shubhobroto Ghosh told ANIMALS 24-7.
The Last Great Wild Beast Show was also among the inspirations for Ghosh to compile his own Indian Zoo Inquiry, sponsored by ZooCheck, a project of the Born Free Foundation initiated by Bill Jordan, also separately incorporated as ZooCheck Canada.
Born Free Foundation
The Born Free Foundation was founded in 1984 in Horsham, West Sussex, an outlying suburb of London, England, by Virginia McKenna, and Bill Travers, with Bill Jordan as a consulting advisor.
McKenna and Bill Travers had co-starred in the 1966 film Born Free, about the 1956 rehabilitation and return to the wild of the orphaned lion cub Elsa by George and Joy Adamson at what is now Hell’s Gate National Park in western Kenya.
Will Travers, son of McKenna and Bill Travers, has directed the Born Free Foundation from inception.
Bill Jordan, by then a Royal SPCA board member, semi-simultaneously founded his own organization, Care For The Wild, as a mail order bookstore in Rusper, West Sussex, a semi-rural village five miles north of Horsham.
Care of the Wild
George Adamson conducted a ceremonial opening on a rare visit to England, but the store never was financially successful
Rusper, now a residential suburb of London, consisted at the time chiefly of a medieval church and two 400-year-old pubs.
Bill Jordan’s initial idea was that the bookstore, headquartered in a rickety former stable across the driveway from the Jordans’ Tudor-vintage farmhouse, would fund overseas wildlife projects.
Following The Last Great Wild Beast Show, Bill Jordan wrote the 1982 wildlife rehabilitation manual Care Of The Wild, which more-or-less inspired the name of his organization.
Many work for wildlife conservation, few for wildlife welfare
The founding impetus, Bill Jordan recalled to ANIMALS 24-7 years later, came when he realized that although many organizations were working for the conservation of wild animals, none were working for their welfare.
Scarcely any nation is successfully conserving endangered species, Jordan observed, which did not first develop an influential humane movement, often after conservation efforts were started but failed to catch on.
Lecture as conservation biologists might about the overriding importance of saving species and habitat, Bill Jordan explained, most people spend money and make personal sacrifices to save animals only if they care about them as individuals, not just about abstract concepts such as species survival and biodiversity.
That, Bill Jordan argued, makes animal welfare the very basis of successful conservation.
Though the Care For The Wild mail order bookstore struggled, Bill Jordan continued traveling on veterinary missions.
Bill Jordan in March 1987 visited the Kenya SPCA on behalf of another British charity, The Donkey Sanctuary, whose Kenya facilities are on the Kenya SPCA grounds.
He happened to be visiting the nearby David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust rhino and elephant orphanage, adjacent to Nairobi National Park, founder Daphne Sheldrick later wrote, “when a baby elephant was brought into the Maralal Safari Lodge in urgent need of care.”
Recalled Sheldrick, “After almost 30 years of caring for elephants, I thought there couldn’t be much more to learn.
“This orphan, Olmeg, was to prove me wrong.
“I had always had difficulty in feeding orphans,” Sheldrick acknowledged. “They shoved and pushed, first wanted milk and then didn’t, and I had long puzzled as to what could be missing
“Olmeg taught me. Because he was so sunburnt, Olmeg was fed in the shelter of a small tent, and this solved all of the feeding tantrums.
“Reversing into it, he positioned his little trunk gently against the canvas surface and when everything felt just right, he took the whole bottle of milk without any fuss.
“The missing elements were a large protective shape above, to replace the lost mother, and a soft feel for the tip of the trunk.”
Convinced that Daphne Sheldrick was the “matron saint” of orphaned elephant babies, Bill Jordan formed the Care For The Wild orphan elephant adoption scheme, “which supported the care and rehabilitation of our orphans for many years,” Sheldrick said.
Bill Jordan wrote another successful book, Divorce Among the Gulls (1991), in which he called attention to the animal traits manifested throughout human behavior.
Help from daughter & son
By then he realized that Care For The Wild needed help from the three grown Jordan children, daughter Sheena, her husband Donald Bliss, and twin sons Richard and Chris Jordan.
Sheena in 1991 incorporated Care For The Wild USA to assist in fundraising, with an office in Madison, Wisconsin.
Chris Jordan left a sales career to become the self-described Care For The Wild “SOB,” short for “Son of Boss.”
Chris and Sheena between them boosted the Care For The Wild donor list from 1,400 in 1991 to 55,000 a decade later.
Holding expenses to the bare minimum, in order to send more help to overseas wildlife projects, Care For The Wild squeezed additional staff into the converted bookstore/stable and closet-sized offices in Bill Jordan’s home.
Sponsoring orphaned elephants and rhinos at the Sheldrick Trust facility soon led to donating and repairing vehicles for the anti-poaching force at Tsavo East National Park.
Care For The Wild undertook a similar role at Satpura National Park and the Bori and Pachmari Sanctuaries in Madhya Pradesh, India.
A 1996 Care For The Wild contribution of two small trucks and 14 motorcycles to the Satpura ranger corps was by far the biggest donation that we have ever received, the regional conservator of forests wrote.
Further donations of jeeps, trucks, and motor boats followed, with Chris Jordan paying frequent surprise visits to the recipients to make sure none of the equipment was misused or stolen. In Zimbabwe, where elephants might be protected from poachers only to be shot by trophy hunters or culled by rangers, Care For The Wild hired former elephant hunter Clem Coetzee (1939-2006) to relocate “surplus” elephants to private preserves whose owners pledged to allow no elephant hunting for at least 25 years.
Also working with the Wildlife For Africa Trust and the Southern Africa Wildlife Trust, Coetzee developed techniques for moving as many as 10 elephants per truck over distances of up to 750 miles in as little as three days. When Coetzee started, such whole-herd relocations were considered impossible.
That project fell apart, however, during the “land invasions” by “war veterans” and their families directed by former Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe early in the 21st century, as the Mugabe regime struggled to contain political discontent driven by corruption and poverty.
Who Cares for Planet Earth? The CON in Conservation
Care For The Wild during the Jordan years also aided the Orangutan Foundation in Borneo, funded the Centre for Amazonian Primates rescue facility near Manaus, Brazil, supported white gibbon rescue in Thailand, and in Chile sponsored vicuna protection work by Christian Bonacic, DVM.
With trusted family members helping to run Care For The Wild, Bill Jordan also produced another book, Who Cares for Planet Earth? The CON in Conservation, published in December 2000, arguing again that generalized concern for animal welfare must be developed in any given society before support for wildlife conservation can take hold as a societal ethic.
Bill Jordan continued to serve on the Royal SPCA ruling council, but in November 2000 then-Times of London countryside editor Valerie Elliott reported that the RSPCA ruling council had barred Bill Jordan and three other longtime board members from attending or speaking at the monthly ruling council meetings.
Animals In War
“Instead they will receive a quarterly newsletter and be expected to attend publicity events with celebrities,” Elliot wrote.
“Some members believe that the move was an attempt by the RSPCA’s director-general, Peter Davies, to silence Bill Jordan, a veterinary scientist who is seen as a ‘progressive’ opponent of animal experiments.
“Bill Jordan has frequently criticized RSPCA policy, particularly in relation to circus animals,” and also criticized an RSPCA contribution of £10,000 to build the “Animals In War” memorial in London.
The latter was a pet project of Peter Davies, who retired in 1991 as a major general after 33 years in military service. Appointed RSPCA director-general later in 1991, Davies also chaired the Animals In War Memorial Fund.
But Davies did not last with the RSPCA much past Bill Jordan’s tenure, departing in 2002 to serve until 2009 as director-general of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, now called World Animal Protection.
The RSPCA contended that both Bill Jordan and Peter Davies simply retired.
Care For The Wild meanwhile largely disintegrated after a 2002 split among the board of directors that brought the resignations of Bill Jordan and family.
The Born Free Foundation in February 2021 absorbed what remained of Care For The Wild, having in 2008 also absorbed the U.S.-based Animal Protection Institute, which became Born Free USA.
Bill Jordan went on to found Rhino Ark in 2003, raising £4575.00 to help fence Aberdare national Park in Kenya, the last home of northern black rhinos, through the sale of eighty paintings donated by wildlife artist Pollyanna Pickering (1942-2018).
Pickering also became honorary vice president of the Bill Jordan Wildlife Defence Fund, incorporated in early 2004, and like Care For The Wild during the Jordan years, headquartered at Bill Jordan’s home and converted stable in Rusper, West Sussex.
Various honors followed. Having received the Queen Victoria silver medal in 1995, Bill Jordan was admitted to the Order of the British Empire in 2005, and also in 2005 received the Richard Martin award, the highest honor bestowed by the Royal SPCA.
Bill and Brenda Jordan emigrated to the USA in 2006, to be near their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, according to Brenda Jordan’s obituary, published after her death on October 3, 2018 in Verona, Wisconsin.
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