3rd March 2014 is the first World Wildlife Day
This comes at a time when the future survival of wildlife and wild places seems to have assumed a high priority on the international agenda. The weight of incidents, events, meetings and tragedies simply cannot be ignored.
The London Summit on Illegal Wildlife Trade aimed at tackling the massive impact of serious, organised wildlife crime on species as diverse as elephants, rhino, sharks, tigers, lions, pangolins and more;
The announcement that Iraq has become the 180th country to join CITES (the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora);
The ongoing misery of Arturo, the Polar bear in Argentina’s Mendoza Zoo;
The news that a Ugandan High Court Judge has released nearly 3 tonnes of ivory to a Congolese businessman;
The destruction of Marius, the young giraffe at Copenhagen Zoo (‘surplus to requirements’)
Confirmation from Tanzania that plans to build a highly-controversial highway through the world-famous Serengeti National Park are relentlessly advancing.
That some of the world’s most iconic species, and the habitats they rely on for their survival, face a crisis is now widely accepted. However, what to do about it remains the subject of fierce debate.
Some say ‘use it or lose it’ (a phrase made famous by Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe) and frequently used by advocates of trophy hunting, the continued trade in wildlife products and the weakening of environmental protection laws. They argue that regulated forms of wildlife and environmental exploitation generate money for developing countries, help meet the needs of local communities, support conservation and sustain species.
Others look at it a different way. They (and I am one of them) contend that there are now ‘so many of us’ and ‘so few of them’ that, leaving aside the ethical dimension for a moment, the risks to species from ongoing and relentless commercial exploitation; the ability of wildlife crime to use any legal trade as a smokescreen for industrial-scale corruption and illegal trade; the rapacious demands of increasingly affluent end-user markets; and the truly global scale of the problem, mean we have to consider an alternative approach.
If we, as a species (with the power over life and death, survival or extinction, for all life on earth) value wildlife, not because of the money we can make from it but for the intrinsic values it offers and the role it plays in dynamic, evolving ecosystems, then we need to pay for it.
The parallel I would draw is with the Arts. Even in these austere times, the UK government believes that the Arts are such an important part in the fabric of our society that they will spend £350 million of tax-payers money subsidising and supporting them. All over the world, many countries do the same in recognition of the fact that the richness of human creativity and expression would be diminished or lost if entrusted only to commercial imperatives. No government support? No experimental theatre, no independent films, no free, open-to-all, museums….
Well, in my view, wildlife species are the natural treasures of the world and we need to treat them in the same way we treat the Arts. After all, the UK can find £45 billion for High Speed 2 (a new rail link from London to Birmingham, the UK’s second largest city); Russia spent tens of billions on the Olympic Games; the US spends over £400 billion a year on its military budget, over 5 times that of China.
It’s not that we don’t have the resources, it’s how we decide to spend them. We have a choice.
World Wildlife Day on 3rd March may just turn out to be the focus we need to reconsider our current trajectory of planetary annihilation and step back and try something new.
So although 3rd March is certainly a date for your calendar, I hope that, together with Born Free, you decide to go one step further and make each and every day your World Wildlife Day. It’s time for a change and there isn’t a moment to lose!
Will Travers OBE
President Born Free Foundation