My hope for the future of wildlife


Virginia McKenna OBE, Born Free’s Co-Founder and Trustee, reflects on the coronavirus pandemic 

One of the meanings of the word corona is ‘luminous body seen near the sun or moon’. How beautiful that sounds. However, when one adds virus to the word, the meaning has a deadly connotation, as many people now know. We are facing the dark side of the moon.

Of course, we have no idea how long this situation will last. Maybe several months. A challenge indeed – especially for the incredible team of frontline workers. 

In an almost unprecedented and overwhelming invasion of the world’s health, by an unknown and unseen enemy, we are struggling to keep calm as we remove ourselves from what we call everyday life. 

We have been told that certain wild animals, bats and pangolins, can carry the virus, but they are blameless. Let us not make them the scapegoat for human activities.

We indiscriminately expose wild creatures to untold pain and suffering; exploiting them as curiosities, testing medicines on them in laboratories, hunting them for sport and selling them for food or traditional medicinal products in some markets. This shocking and terrible virus may bring a re-assessment and perhaps an end to these customs and abuses. It seems highly likely that the virus came into contact with people in a market in China which sold wild animals for human consumption.

It may seem strange to you that I believe it is possible for a new respect for animals to emerge from this time of fear and suffering. A time may have arrived when many more of us will begin to value nature and its unique and fascinating wild creatures, many of whom helped create the wild environment we treasure. 

However, in this present moment which confronts us every single day, we are not used to being told we can only take some form of exercise once a day, that we cannot fly on a plane. 

In other words, we are unaccustomed to having freedom of choice denied. In our society, the removal of freedom is punishment for a crime; that is prison. And that is the existence endured by millions of animals around the world – in circuses, menageries, zoos, as private pets, and birds in cages. Social animals living alone, enduring frustration, boredom and a lack of any form of natural expression.

My hope, as it is so often, is in young people. Their excitement when they glimpse a robin in the park or garden, see swallows flying, hear owls hooting. I am also deeply appreciative of the growing numbers of teachers who inspire young people to understand about wildlife, through photographs and films, and who explain how animals feel emotions that, not so long ago, we thought were the unique preserve of humans. Seeing these wild creatures in nature is the way they can learn about and respect them, not in captivity where their instincts and natural behaviour patterns can never be expressed.

This shocking and terrible virus may, eventually, bring an end to these unacceptable abuses. We must remember, after all, that animals called this planet home long before humans evolved. I will never give up hope that this will happen.