Dr. Richard Leakey, former head of the Kenya Wildlife Service, flew to Harare, Zimbabwe, to address the Species Survival Network's reception for delegates and observers. The reception was held on 12 June at the 1997 CITES conference. Although many reporters attended the reception, the Zimbabwe government-controlled press never made a single mention of Dr. Leakey's visit, presumably because he did not sing "the Zimbabwe Song" of making wild animals "pay their way." Extracts from Dr. Leakey's speech follow. At one point Leakey described himself as a "bunny hugger" and pulled out a white stuffed rabbit to a roar of applause from the guests!
I confess that I find the very concept of conservation to be ambiguous at best and in the era of political correctness, one hears all kinds of interpretations of what a "good" conservation program should be about. Does it follow that good conservation practice will prevent species extinctions? Probably not. I don't know what is right or good, but I do think that as we approach the end of this century we must be increasingly mindful of the consequences that result from extinctions.
Species survival is obviously the focus for many of us gathered here this evening and I hope that it is also an important concern for some of the other participants in the CITES meeting who are not here this evening.
Most of you know as well as I do that biologists and conservationists are operating from a position of ignorance: we don't actually know how many species there really are on the planet, let alone on the African or any other continent. The rate of extinctions is also unknown. Scientists suggest that there are somewhere between 10 and 100 million species on the planet. Human activities are causing between 10,000 and 40,000 species to become extinct each year. Since life first appeared, apparently more than 99% of species have become extinct. Our role in this extraordinary saga has been minuscule and so far it is not statistically significant. Most of these losses are well before we came on the scene and we probably would not have appeared at all if extinctions had not opened up some ecological opportunities for our ancestors.
It is the acceleration of species loss through human activities today that is significant and unless the present trend is reversed, the planet could lose approximately 55% of today's species over the next 50 to 100 years. Such rapid catastrophic losses to biodiversity have happened before, and these catastrophes have always had far reaching consequences for the surviving species.
Given the inevitability of extinctions, and bearing in mind that most of these losses will come about as a consequence of activities beyond the control of individual nations or their conventions, should we really be concerned about the loss of a few species that results from international trade? Will the world be any worse off if there are no longer pangolins, brown hyenas or pandas?
The Europeans don't seem to have suffered from the loss of the woolly rhinoceros and how many Americans even remember the giant sloth that slipped into extinction some ten thousand years ago?
Will Africans miss the elephant or the rhino if these too disappear? Is the elephant any more important than an orchid that grows near tropical wetlands? What about the extinction of hundreds and thousands of species that we humans have not yet even discovered? Does it matter if they become extinct before we even know that they exist?
I think it does, and I am sure many of you do too, but there are a good number of people on our planet for whom the idea of conservation is quite irrelevant and our rhetoric is entirely empty of practical meaning to their lives. This is perhaps the greatest challenge.
The increasingly popular and politically correct slogans such as community wildlife, "parks beyond parks", sustainable utilization and "If it pays it stays" are just as irrelevant to these same people, the masses. The vast majority of our species now live where all but they and a few human-dependent species remain. The rest have gone and gone for ever.
The threat to habitat and to communities of wild species is actually from a relatively small proportion of the total human population, be it considered globally or at the local level. Notwithstanding this, the consumptive trends are encouraging this small element to decimate natural habitats to produce the needs, or perceived needs, of the growing markets.
Conservation is a responsibility of leaders. Those of us who can afford to make policy, do so, on behalf of these who cannot. We do this in all realms of human affairs: public health, education taxation and so forth. Many actions of responsible government are not necessarily popular with the people but through civic education and other means, people do learn to accept regulation of their lives and activities in some form.
Popularity is not the aim in much of public policy - the public good is - although I have to admit that this is easier to talk about than to achieve.
Nonetheless, I personally believe that in the area of species protection, we should concern ourselves with what is right as opposed to what may be easier, or popular in the short term. We need, as leaders, to lead and to be accountable for our leadership.
It is bogus to believe that you can "buy" support over the long term.
Revenue sharing, decision sharing and similar well intended tactics will not be sustainable in those parts of the world where the general standard of living is declining and where there is a frightening increment to the cost of meeting basic human needs. The numbers of people on the planet are increasing, their needs are increasing, their expectations are increasing. The resource that we are concerned with, wildlife or nature, has finite limits. The estate available to wild species is in fact constantly decreasing under pressure from the other human activities and these are unstoppable.
CITES is an extremely important international organ and I do not have any regard for those who are claiming that it is or has been a protectionist club of western interests.
The original idea was to establish an international regulatory organ that would make certain that international trade did not threaten the survival of species. This is quite different from an organization that seeks to ensure that concerns for species survival should not endanger international trade! I fear that over the past decade there has been an attempt by some to change the mission of the organization.
This must be resisted and we should not be afraid to express ourselves on the importance of species survival. I do not feel guilty or uncomfortable when I am accused of being "on the side of wildlife." I care and so do millions of other people in every part of the world. We must be heard, we must stand tall and remember that a species lost is lost for all time. In the past few years I have changed the focus of my own activities and I am, as some of you perhaps have heard, now active in Kenya in the pro-democracy movement.
Kenyans, like other people in other countries, want to be fairly governed: they want accountability, justice and opportunity to better their own lives. The opponents of the movement for greater democracy, usually powerful incumbent government leaders who have no popular mandate, claim that democracy is a "western" or foreign concept.
They are wrong: fairness and justice, along with the rights of a people to question and change their leaders, were the norm in pre-colonial African nation states. These are foundations of democracy and they are universal.
I raise this because I am well aware that there are some vocal critics of CITES and other conservation groups who claim that attempting to protect and ensure survival of species is somehow neo-colonialist, foreign or worse still, western.
The term "bunny huggers" has been used to describe some of us who are concerned about the fate of wild species. To belittle our noble cause is the practice of the shallow, the insecure and the incompetents, be it in the realm of wildlife or liberty and justice. May I remind these same critics that before western or specifically Caucasian penetration of Africa or the Americas, conservation was widely practiced; species were not endangered and there was a tolerable balance between human populations and their environs. It went wrong when "western influences" reached these continents.
Preserving pasture, forests and species was very much a part of the culture and practice of many traditional societies. It is certainly not "Western" or "European" to appreciate nature; it is a human value that is expressed world wide.
This human value is of course conditioned by circumstances and a poor and hungry person with no prospects for a better life will see a patch of beautiful wilderness very differently from a well fed, affluent person who has the use of a four wheel drive vehicle to escape the rigors and routines of an affluent life.
In large measure attitudes will go along with real life issues and this must not be forgotten when we consider the claims and counter-claims by those who are charged with looking after wildlife, and who insist that they know what the stake-holders want. I am not sure that these so-called stake holders are in fact known or recognized - and I am certain they are seldom consulted.
I also believe that it is important to examine the quite ridiculous notion that is increasingly put about that everything is best seen as part of a complex economic equation. We are encouraged to believe that unless something can be given a dollar value, it is of little relevance to the modern age and the march towards Utopia.
I disagree and I am reminded of a recent editorial comment in the New Scientist where the observation was made that nature, like liberty, has no price tag. In the context of a CITES meeting, I think it would be right to remind the delegates that species which are the stuff of nature are priceless, as are human dignity and freedom. Government and inter government policies and actions should be based firmly on this premise, which is not negotiable.
It is in this regard that I would like to pay particular tribute to the Non Governmental Organization (NGO) movement. At a conference of this kind, t>
I would be surprised if a number of NGOs did not in fact have a far better grasp of what the "people" want than many of the well-paid, allowance-living, government representatives who are here for this CITES meeting.
I was at a CITES meeting some years ago on the government or official side and believe me, the discussions would have been a great deal better if the NGOs could have participated rather than simply being kept at the back of the room or outside altogether. One of the reasons that I accepted the invitation to speak here tonight was so that I could pay tribute to the NGOs and their role in bringing pressure on policy makers. Pressure must be maintained.
Before concluding these brief remarks, let me succumb to a temptation that I should probably resist: I want to talk about elephants and the issue of a split-listing or down listing. I am well aware that we are guests in Zimbabwe and that my remarks may not please some. Anyway I did not leave my mother's womb to please people.
I am entirely opposed to any resumption of any international trade in ivory now or at any time that can be presently predicted. The principle of an ivory trade I accept: the practice of the trade under present circumstances in both producer and consumer countries is untenable.
It is difficult to admit, especially if you are a government employee or political representative, that your own government has no prospect of being able to successfully supervise or police the trade in ivory. In spite of denials, we all know that this is the truth. I know of no country, where the integrity of the public service and the transparency of governance would give the necessary guarantees that illegal trading would not flourish if legal trade were resumed at this time.
We have all read and heard of the problems, not only here in Africa but also in the Far East. Japanese traders have openly admitted that it is not difficult to manipulate the system, even in Japan, and there are no guarantees that all imported ivory will be from legal stocks.
The critics of the Appendix I listing have any number of arguments and I do not wish to go over them all tonight.
There are, however, some things that I must say. The level of poaching did decline following the ban: it may not have stopped, but it was certainly a massive improvement. Illegal trade did continue, but the volume was substantially down and I believe most of the illegal movements were from those countries that now want to lift the ban.
The downlisting proponents claim that Africa's elephant population was not in fact as precarious as had been thought; if this is true and it may well be, let's be glad that the error was on the right side of the account! As Prince Bernhard once said at one occasion like this; where there is doubt, let wildlife be the beneficiary.
One final point to be made before I conclude these brief musings on our elephants is that the money to be made from trading ivory may be substantial for individuals, but it's a pittance for governments. Governments are supposedly there to serve the people and I believe that, if these governments want to serve their people well, they will stand firm and ensure that the ivory trade remains banned indefinitely.
To conclude, I support the concept of an international regulatory body such as CITES. It must do what no other organ of inter-government standing can do: provide legislative protection for endangered species. It must disregard the whines of endangered species traders and short-sighted conservationists.
The SSN and others, including our particular hosts this
evening, should press on with their good work. You cannot win all the battles
and you will not always be popular, but a good number of species, mammal,
insect, reptile, bird and fish, along with plants depend upon your efforts
and, on their behalf, I both commend you all and thank you. It is certainly
not "Western" or "european" to appreciate
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