‘Watch what you eat – it’s driving elephants, jaguar, bees and bison to extinction’

New book claims modern diets to blame for disappearance of Earth’s species as farmers lobby to use toxic herbicide


JUST about every meal people eat is contributing to an alarming decline in the world’s wildlife species, experts have warned.

The claim comes in a new book, backed by Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley, that predicts two-thirds of species will be extinct within three years thanks to modern farming.

British farmers are lobbying to be allowed to continue using herbicides suspected of being linked to cancer, but have dismissed concerns that they are contributing to the worldwide crisis. Continue reading

Superstars of screen and science battle to save endangered lions

Virginia McKenna and Stephen Hawking call on David Cameron to ban importation of body parts

Virginia McKenna led the march on Downing Street

VIRGINIA McKENNA OBE, the iconic Born Free star, Braveheart actor James Cosmo and Professor Stephen Hawking have joined forces to call on Britain’s Prime Minister to ban the importation of lion “trophies” — in an effort to save the world’s last big cats from being wiped out by hunters.

McKenna said: “I refuse to believe our Government will not act,” as she led a rally of up to 1,000 people at Downing Street.

The veteran actress and campaigner, who with her husband Bill Travers founded the charity Born Free, handed in a letter to David Cameron, also signed by Professor Hawking, Cosmo and a host of other celebrities, politicians and charity leaders. Continue reading

Pressure on auction houses for ivory sales ban


Campaigners staged a protest outside Christie’s auctioneers in London

LEADING auction houses are coming under pressure to end sales of ivory, as conservationists are stepping up the battle to have the trade outlawed in Britain.

Dozens of campaigners staged a protest outside Christie’s auctioneers in London, calling for an end to all ivory trade, which they say is speeding the extinction of elephants.

Supporters of the Action for Elephants group rallied, waved placards and handed out leaflets to publicise the role that ivory sales in the UK play in allowing poaching to continue. Continue reading

Global stampede for elephants and rhinos

Tens of thousands of people worldwide call for action against China to halt to the massacre of wildlife heading for extinction

THERE is a sensational creature on this Earth. It discovers water sources and nurtures waterholes that allow other animals to also thrive, even in dry seasons; it enriches forests by tearing down old trees and ploughing nutrients back into the soil, giving life to all creatures great and small; spreads plant seeds, and it creates woodland clearings to let sunlight penetrate in, regenerating growth cycles. In short, this animal is pivotal to the ecosystems on which swathes of land masses depend.

Further, it is highly intelligent and sensitive, with complex and wide family bonds; it demonstrably experiences a host of emotions, from love, attachment and happiness to alarm, grief, and fear. Herd members have highly developed communications systems that remain a mystery to human beings.

This amazing creature – the elephant – even earns an income for its host countries, through binocular-toting tourists anxious to catch a glimpse of it – and to shoot it through a camera lens.

Yet humans are rapidly wiping it out.

Less than a century ago, Africa was home to more than five million elephants. Today they are under threat of extinction, and if they continue to be shot, poisoned and snared at current rates, they could disappear, conservationists calculate, within a decade.

The rate of their demise is alarming: at least 96 are killed around the world every day – that’s one about every 15 minutes – or at least 35,000 a year, although experts believe the number could be as high as 50,000 a year. It’s the highest rate of killings ever, and is nothing short of a massacre.

Elephants have strong social bonds and experience a range of emotions.

But this weekend, the world will be on the march in an effort to stamp out the trade that feeds the slaughter.

Marches are being held in 133 cities around the world, attended by ordinary people who care that the iconic species could be wiped out within their lifetimes, that today’s generation is the one that allowed this to happen. The slogan of the march is “Extinction is for ever”.

Action call

The Global March for Elephants and Rhinos will call on world leaders to take more action than ever to halt sales of ivory – which are sending elephants towards extinction – and also to put a stop to demand for rhino horn, which is similarly endangering wild populations.

Last year, an estimated 50,000 people around the world joined the march; organisers hope this year’s number will exceed that.

In Europe, 20 cities are hosting rallies; in Africa, 32. Even in Asia and the far East – the hub of demand for animal parts, 13 events will be held in cities. From North and South America to Australia and New Zealand, marchers will be calling for urgent action.

In China, a survey showed most people think tusks grow back ‘like fingernails’.

Rhinos are targeted ruthlessly for their horn, which is wrongly thought to treat various ailments

At the end of the marches, organisers will present a “memorandum of demand” letter to government leaders, calling for measures including:

  •  applying pressure to China to state when it will implement its stated plan to halt the ivory trade and shut down ivory-carving factories and ivory trinket shops
  • calling on China to destroy its stockpiles of ivory and punish anyone found illegally dealing in ivory or rhino horn.
  • reclassifying African elephants as two species – Savannah and Forest elephants, both to be listed as endangered
  • cracking down on the capture and international sales of baby elephants
  • halting imports and exports of elephants, rhinos and lions and their body parts and “trophies”

BBC presenter Nicky Campbell, a passionate and articulate defender of big wildlife, will be among the guest speakers in Downing Street before the letter handover. Organisers in London say there will also be a special VIP celebrity, but are keeping the name under wraps.

The big threats

The threat that rhinos face is just as great as elephants. One is killed approximately every nine hours – more than 1,000 every year – out of a global population of 29,000.

Poaching animals for their tusks or horns is believed to be the fourth-biggest international gang crimes – after the smuggling of drugs, people and guns, and is driven by huge demand from Hong Kong, Vietnam and the Philippines, but most of all China. Wealthy consumers in these countries prize useless trinkets made of ivory, and misguidedly believe crushed rhino horn has medicinal value.

Demand is so high that the price of rhino horn exceeds that of gold, diamonds, or cocaine, according to a study in Science Advances.

As poaching has grown, so has worldwide anger, but China is showing no signs of listening. In the US, embassies have reportedly refused to accept letters from protesters, marking them to be returned to sender.

They are, apparently, shielding the Chinese people from the uproar: many people seemingly are unaware that an elephant has to be killed for its tusks to be taken. One survey in China found seven in 10 respondents believed that tusks grew back like fingernails.

The price of becoming isolated is a bullet
Dame Daphne Sheldrick

It’s not entirely about ivory and rhino horn. Habitat destruction is also responsible, as human populations grow, spread and destroy forests, leaving populations isolated within shrinking pockets of wilderness. Inevitably, this imbalance leads to clashes as hungry elephants discover human-planted crops – and help themselves. Often, these scenarios end in tragedy.

As Dame Daphne Sheldrick, an international authority on wildlife and founder of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust put it: “Remnant elephant communities isolated from one another and holed up in small refuge areas immediately become ‘problem animals’ every time they put a foot out, since they find themselves in conflict with human interests. The price of this is a bullet.”

The loss of beasts that bring so many benefits to other wildlife and vegetation is having severe knock-on effects on Africa’s ecology, according to Science Advances. “The rate of large herbivore decline suggests that ever-larger swaths of the world will soon lack many of the vital ecological services these animals provide, resulting in enormous ecological and social costs,” its report said.

Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia, Kenya and Chad are all in the spotlight for allowing criminal poaching gangs to flourish, although last year a deal between Mozambique and Zambia to protect a vital wildlife corridor between the two countries gave conservationists one small cause for optimism.

CITES and charities

In the latter 20th century, most hopes rested on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. But CITES, which meets every two years, was heavily criticised for allowing countries to have exemptions from the 1989 ban on ivory trading for stockpiles. Critics accused it of being plied by politicians and lobbyists.

Now, a host of charities are involved in tackling wildlife crime gangs, with work such as funding rangers and protection helicopters to rescuing orphaned babies. Some, such as WWF, try to link conservation with economic development so that villagers understand the benefits of keeping elephants alive.

Another point of anger is the practice of removing baby elephants from their families and exporting them – or “kidnapping” them.

This year, 24 were imported to China – arguably in breach of CITES’ regulations, which allow the trade only “to appropriate and acceptable destinations”. Photographs and videos of the 24 suggested they were being mistreated and were in ill health, National Geographic reported. One animal had large wounds on her back legs, and all showed signs of distress, according to an expert.

The marches – being held this weekend to tie in with World Animal Day on Sunday – will also call for an end to canned lion hunting, in which lions are bred in captivity specifically to be shot dead by game-hunters.

Fewer than 30,000 lions remain in the wild, say march organisers. It’s just another victim of the relentless march of humanity.

Images: Pixabay / Nuzree / Javier Abalos Alvares

The final roar: Cecil’s tragedy must mark a turning point

Outrage at lion’s murder must spur us into halting the decline in the ‘crown jewels’ of Africa and the natural world


Cecil, who has come to represent what the world loves about wildlife


AS WALTER PALMER raised his fatal bow and arrow, did he look into the eyes of the lion he was about to murder? Did he consider, even for a second, his minuscule significance in the world compared with that of the innocent, gentle creature whose life he intended to steal?

It’s doubtful he can have done, because if he had, even without knowing his target was one of the most revered animals in Africa, he would have understood in a flash the moral repulsiveness of his actions.

But people who enjoy killing beautiful living beings cannot have have the modest intelligence necessary to see their murdering sprees in the context of humanity’s destruction of vast swathes of the natural world, don’t have the heart or soul necessary to understand other lives are not theirs to take, at any price.

Heaven only knows what goes on in the warped minds of individuals who take pleasure in killing sublime, sensitive creatures.

Cecil’s murder is a tragic symbol of all that’s wrong with humanity’s attitude to other living beings

It’s in part thanks to people such as the wealthy Minnesota dentist, who arrogantly think murder is acceptable if you hand over enough dollars, that numbers of African lions have been plummeting. Estimates of the decline vary, from about 200,000 a century ago to 50,000 in the 1980s, to an estimated 25,000 now; Lion Aid puts it at an even worse 15,000 today.

Cecil’s murder is a tragic symbol of all that’s wrong with humanity’s attitude to other living beings.

But less high-profile killings – hunting without permits, poaching, poisonings and canned hunting (in which animals are bred in captivity for the purpose of being murdered by humans) are all too common across Africa, going largely unreported, and therefore not prevented.

Combined with habitat loss (and guess who’s responsible for that? Clue: not other wildlife), Africa’s lion populations are facing extinction, estimated variously at between five and 20 years.

Imagine a world without some of the species we are rapidly driving to extinction – it would be barren, soulless, worn-out wreck of an Earth. Is that what we really want?

Allowing these wondrous beings to die out would be a shameful, scandalous indictment of our apathy, our failure as an intelligent race

Zimbabwe, in whose Hwange National Park Cecil was killed, is already the subject of international anger and condemnation for selling baby elephants to China, causing distress and suffering to animals en route as well as the families from whom they are torn.

There’s a deep irony in the fact that some of the poorest and most poverty-stricken countries in the world are hosts to some of the most precious, incredible forms of life.

Celebrities have been quick to join condemnation of Cecil’s murder, from Ian Poulter, Newt Gingrich and Sir Roger Moore, to Cara Delevingne and Sharon Osbourne.

So what’s to be done? The arguments surrounding the problem are not straightforward, and nor are solutions, but there can be no excuse for allowing the decline to continue. It won’t be easy, but it should be an international priority.

Hunting supporters claim the income is necessary to help support conservation in Africa, bringing more revenue than wildlife-watching tourism. Without the income, the land would be turned over to farming – and the habitats would be lost.

What an objectionable choice: murdering animals directly or killing them by destroying their habitats.

This is a breathtaking example of man’s arrogance – as though every living species must be either destroyed or farmed for food – and of the dangers of allowing unchecked population growth.

But the financial argument is fallacious and utterly unsustainable: what will the likes of Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Botswana do for income when all the lions are gone? These governments need to look beyond the ends of their own noses. If it were true that the income was a vital support for conservation work, populations would be thriving, not dropping.

US and EU must act urgently

It’s clear that current levels of protection are woefully inadequate. African governments and organisers of paid hunts cannot be relied on, and outside help is needed. So for a start, the celebrities speaking out could help by putting their money where their mouths are and donating to charities doing excellent work on the ground, such as the Born Free Foundation and Lion Aid.

But relying on charities by definition is not enough. Some have argued for handing over responsibility to private companies.

But for a longer term solution, the EU and the US must take a lead in the world and ban the importation of trophies from any type of hunting. The US Fish and Wildlife Service could start immediately by listing African lions as endangered by law, which would stop imports of trophies. If moneybags hunters can’t bring their kills home, they will have less incentive to shoot in the first place. British MPs and MEPs should raise the issue urgently with Brussels.

In countries where corruption is endemic, the task of guarding some of our most treasured and declining fellow creatures should be supervised by inter-governmental co-operation working groups – possibly even using the funding of private businesses in return for harmless publicity – to provide the highest standards of protection.

Nothing short of a UN agreement is needed to arrest and turn around the fatal course that big cat populations are on. Lion Aid needs all the support it can get in pushing further measures in Africa itself and beyond.

We are privileged to be able to share our world with these sublime animals, and need to put as much effort into preserving them and their habitats as we put into creating our own society

When an overwhelming majority of right-minded people are disgusted by hunting, it is absurd that a minority can still be allowed to indulge their short-sighted, selfish, bloodthirsty whims this way.

So let us hope Cecil’s death marks a turning point in our priorities. `

We are privileged to be able to share our world with these sublime animals, and need to put as much effort into preserving them and their habitats as we put into creating the infrastructures of our own society.

Allowing these wondrous beings to die out would be a shameful, scandalous indictment of our apathy, our failure as an intelligent race – a perfect illustration of the adage about evil flourishing when good people do nothing. While we sit by and wring our hands, we are demonstrating how we humans are too spineless to properly tackle the crisis, and how, in lacking sufficient compassion to drive us to act, for all our technological advancements, we are still primitive in our attitudes towards conserving some of the crown jewels of the natural world.

Image: Vince O’Sullivan

Chick or tweet: the birds we are honoured with

TWO years ago, I started keeping occasional notes on the birds we saw in our garden. I don’t claim to be anything but a complete amateur in bird-watching or that my records are comprehensive. But they are a snapshot of the wonderful, soul-enriching observations of life that is, thankfully, still hanging on in our ever-shrinking green corners and hedgerows. Our garden is only a modest one, in a medium-sized town, but I am still impressed by the life cycles it harbours.

I dedicate this post to builders across Britain of housing estates, trunk roads and airport runways, pro-HS2 campaigners, office block developers, concrete layers, Natural England – which wants to allow the annihilation of robins’, pied wagtails’ and starlings’ nests and eggs – and all other determined destroyers of hedgerows and wildlife habitats. Continue reading