September the 24th 2016 was an extremely important day for me, as not only was it the opening day of CITES 17 (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), where Government representatives meet to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants do not threaten their survival, but also because I was to join top conservationists as we were to ‘March On Downing Street’ with charity Action for Elephants UK in the name of stopping the UK trade in antique ivory.
Experts working closely with elephants and rhinos have informed me directly that we have between 7-10 years to extinction of these iconic animals if they are being poached at the current rate. Approx 90-100 elephants are killed a day and about 3 rhinos a day. We have around 250,000 elephants left and only 28,000 rhinos. You may think 250,000, well that’s not bad, but if you go back to the beginning of the 19th century, there were over 5 million elephants. We have lost 90% of the population in only 110 years and not only are the elephants suffering, lions are down to 15,000, their bones crushed for traditional medicine (an ‘inferior’ replacement to tiger bone, due to the rareness of the Tiger now) and their skins taken for rugs, their heads as distasteful trophies on hunter’s walls, such as notorious Cecil killer dentist Walter Palmer, their mouths set into snarls, so as to suggest the hunter must have been pretty brave to have shot than confined canned lion….. Conservationists working in Africa and Asia now struggle to find a live pangolin, their scales crushed down and consumed as traditional medicine in Asia and their flesh eaten as a luxurious delicacy. Humans have managed to destroy 50% of life on earth in just the last century.
CITES currently have most of the world’s elephants and rhinos on Appendix 1 which automatically means they receive immunity to trade and a ban on their body parts, however a few elephants and rhinos in several regions remain on Appendix 2. This means they are still at risk. Many countries also own stock piles of confiscated ivory which they stash until they win rights for legal sale. This is granted by CITES. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, this fuels the demand in ivory immediately with the highest consumers being China, USA and Japan. Countries such as Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa appeal ongoing to CITES to sell their stock piles legally in order to generate money. The loophole here is whenever ‘legal’ ivory is released, illegal poached ivory is ‘laundered’ into the trade and this is why poaching is not decreasing.
To make matters worse, there is still domestic trade allowed within a country’s borders, this includes trade from previously authorised stockpiles of ivory and ivory sold before the ban 40 years back. Many people argue that this sounds ok and perhaps should be allowed to continue, but the trouble is, again, poached ivory is finding its way into the system via the old ivory trade. Once crafted, it is hard to tell new from old ivory. The only way to stop the trade is to stop ALL trade.
I was proud to stand shoulder to shoulder alongside some of the world’s finest conservationists including Born Free Founder and national treasure Virginia McKenna, award winning conservationist and elephant expert Ian Redmond, BBC Radio 5’s Nicky Campbell, Presenter Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall (who was finishing up filming his BBC Wildlife Crime documentary on the illegal ivory and rhino horn trade), Elephant Family’s Ruth Powys, Born Free’s Dominic Dyer, Boris Johnson’s dad and Author Stanley Johnson, Helping Rhino’s Simon Jones, Ngani, a little girl representing Malawi and IFAW’s Philip Mansbridge.
Everyone made heart wrenching speeches and all put heart, soul and personal feelings into why they were here representing this ‘March Against Extinction’ and why it meant so much for each of us to why the trade must end.
Finally, Hugh Fernley Whittingstall headed up the group of speakers as we crossed Whitehall over to Downing Street to deliver the letter complied by charity Action for Elephants UK to Theresa May requesting the ban on UK ivory trade. I can proudly say that this letter, signed by some of the world’s most respected conservationists and celebrities, was accepted, so hopefully in the light of CITES, Theresa May and environment minister Andrea Leadsom will seriously listen to the voice of the majority, as it is the majority of the UK who want to see an end to this trade.
None of us want to lose our iconic species. None of us want to visit these animals in the confines of zoos and parks 10 years from now. Especially with the population of Africa about to explode and double due to improving living standards, it is now or never that we need to look to the preservation of their land, territories and protect them from the poaching. It will be hard, as their tusks and horns are now considered white gold with their value higher than cocaine, with the money obtained from their trade fuelling terrorism and corruption being rife everywhere.All I know, is we have one last chance to do this and it starts with CITES making sure every animal is on and stays on Appendix 1 and all countries removing all trade in ivory and horn now. These animals’ lives are well and truly in our hands.
It’s time for us to move, but the question is: has time run out already?…….
To watch our film from the day click below