Wildlife Conservation

In an essay published in 1936, George Orwell describes his horror at being driven to shoot a rogue elephant in Burma.  His hesitation was increased by the knowledge that the animal would be "worth far more to its owner" alive, when it could work, than dead.

Today that equation has been reversed.  The value of ivory, for all the attempts to ban its trade, has seen catastrophic declines in elephant numbers.

In 1979, there were estimated to be 1.3 million wild elephants in Africa: now, there are fewer than 400,000.  In the last three years, elephant poaching levels on the continent have exceeded 5 per cent of the total population, a horribly significant tipping point, because killings are now outpacing the animals' birth rate.

There has been an outcry over the killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe.  I find it hard to imagine why anyone would want to shoot such an animal.  But hunting is a poor target for global outrage.  The threat to Africa's wildlife is not from Minnesotan dentists.  It is from ruthless poachers.

Some argue that many reserves rely on income from game hunting to pay for wildlife to be protected.  Others hate the idea, pointing to wildlife tourism as a better alternative to generate the cash.  Either way, there is a huge danger in mistaking the ideology of animal rights with effective conservation.

Last year I argued in the Commons for tougher measures to tackle the illegal wildlife trade, ahead of a major international initiative spearheaded by our Government.  In a speech to the Wildlife Trust of India six years ago, I argued that if we do not find ways to value wildlife, poachers will value it more.

WWF has stated that the illegal wildlife trade is one of the biggest threats to the survival of some of the world’s most threatened species, second only to habitat destruction.

It is a shame that one lion was wrongly killed.  But I weep that some of the greatest animals on earth will be wiped out entirely from the wild within a generation, killed not by hunters but by an unsentimental trade.

Nick Herbert