Norman Baker MP: Race against time to protect endangered species
I normally try to keep my day job, my role as MP, separate from my music, but this week I made an exception. I released a CD called
Animal Countdown, and introduced a debate in the House of Commons, to highlight the threat of extinction hanging over so many wonderful species – rhinos, tigers, lions and even elephants, to name just a handful.
The facts are stark. Tiger numbers have fallen from 100,000 a hundred years ago, to a situation where there are now more in zoos than in the wild. Central Africa has lost 64% of its elephants in just ten years. 50,000 were slaughtered in 2013 alone. In the oceans, 73 million sharks are killed every year for their fins. Clearly this is all hopelessly unsustainable.
Why is this? Simply, money. The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth US$19 BILLION a year, behind only drugs, people, oil and counterfeiting. And the poachers are highly organised. In one instance I came across as a minister, a group of poachers arrived in a protected wildlife area by military helicopter and machine-gunned everything in sight, animals and rangers alike.
I am pleased to say that Britain has taken a lead in trying to tackle this, and in February 2014 held an international conference, which I part-chaired as minister for crime prevention. The resulting London Declaration was agreed by 41 countries and was a big step forward. The follow-up meeting takes place in Botswana later this month.
The UK has a good record in intercepting shipments of illegally traded species. I visited the UK Border Force and was very impressed with their commitment and expertise. But the real solutions lie elsewhere.
First we in the West must reinforce the help we offer to those African countries – a clear majority – who actually want to halt the slaughter, not least because wild animal populations keep the natural balance and provide a good income from tourists. This means military help and money.
Second, we need to work with those countries, China in particular, where the demand for endangered species exists. It is good that China has recently announced a ban on ivory imports, but much more has to be done, not least weaning their population off quack cures like ground rhino horn, which in truth are no more use medically than human fingernails.
But we are in a race against time. I don’t want to be part of the generation that loses the tiger, the lion and the rhino for ever.