As 2015 draws to a close, I was reflecting on the year that is past and, the more I thought about it the more I realised that despite all the horrors around us, some important progress was made on behalf of wildlife in the last 12 months.
Sometimes, although we want action and we want it now, it’s important to take the long view.
Here are my thoughts:
They say things never change, that the forces ranged against those who genuinely want to make this a more compassionate and caring world are too powerful, too influential, too wealthy – that they are invincible. Well, whoever they are, they are wrong.
In the 1970s there were dozens of captive dolphin shows in the UK and it seemed like they were here to stay. Today there are none – together with many others we worked tirelessly to get them closed down and get the dolphins out, and we succeeded.
Twenty five years ago circuses featuring wild animals were all over this country – there was even one which regularly featured on Television as a New Year’s Day Treat. Today there is just one circus with wild animals and, although it seems like it is taking forever, we have a promise from this government – overwhelmingly supported by all Parties and throughout the country – that this practice will be banned, as soon as Parliamentary time allows.
The Chinese love affair with and desire for the teeth of dead elephants – ivory – seemed insatiable. Tonnes of ivory – the last mortal remains of thousands of elephant – made its way to China each year. Countries in Africa stood on the brink of losing their entire elephant populations. ON AVERAGE – over 30,000 elephants a year for the last 5 years have been killed for their ivory. I have seen the brutal, bloody consequences first hand; on elephants, on Rangers (more than 1,000 have been killed defending wildlife in the last 10 years), on communities and, yes, even on poachers – so often just exploited and expendable pawns, sacrificed by those who run the international wildlife crime syndicates.
Who would have believed that only a few months ago, the Chinese President, Xi Xinping, and President Obama would announce that ‘within a year’ they would end virtually all domestic ivory trade’? The end of the ivory trade may be in sight!
While commercial whaling has been banned for many years, so-called ‘scientific whaling’ has continued, with the Japanese at the sharp end. Who would have thought that the Australian Government would challenge and defeat this despicable practice in the International Criminal Court, but they have! And, as the whaling fleet sets sail once more, it looks like the Australians may challenge them yet again.
The entertainment giant that is SeaWorld seemed invincible when we started campaigning against the captive exploitation of orca and other marine mammals decades ago. Look at SeaWorld today – finances down, attendances down, share price down. A ban on trainers performing with the orca in the pool; a ban on breeding at some of their facilities… and their new Vision – bigger tanks – soundly rejected by everyone with an ounce of intelligence. Bigger tanks are just bigger prisons – they’re not fooling anyone!
When we witness with ongoing horror at Taiji, I believe we must look with a sense of history and perspective and, dare I say it, with a sense of hope. Thanks to The Cove and The Dolphin Project, Taiji will never be out of the public consciousness again. There are no ‘blind eyes’ and there is nowhere to hide.
Increasingly, people know that captive dolphin shows around the world are directly linked with the Taiji massacre. They are aware that captive exploitation is one of the key economic drivers that supports the slaughter. They know that if they don’t go to water circuses to see dolphins performing meaningless routines in artificial, alien environments, then the thing that matters most to these facilities – the bottom line – simply won’t stack up. It costs money – a lot of money – to run a dolphinarium. And if the punters don’t go, then the money doesn’t come in and the place will close. That is what happened here in the UK over 20 years ago and it can happen anywhere.
But we must not forget that to win these battles on behalf of wild animals in need will require commitment right up to the last moment. That is our job – my job, your job. Wherever we are in the world we must raise our voices of compassion long, and loud, and clear so that those who still perpetuate mass cruelty and suffering on intelligent, individual animals, appreciate that we are watching and that history will not judge them kindly if they continue.
I believe we are on the edge of a new future in terms of our relationship with wild animals and the natural world. My mentor, George Adamson, together with my father Bill and my mother Virginia, taught me that animals are individuals with individual needs, wants and desires. That is the key. No one wants to be a number – you don’t, I don’t, and neither do animals. You can do anything to a number, numbers don’t answer back.
But you cannot, should not, must not ignore an individual. We speak for each and every one of them and we will bear witness to their suffering until they suffer no more.