Environmental campaigners should stop wasting money trying to save “totemic symbols of cuteness” such as the giant panda and focus instead on more pressing political conservation issues, the wildlife presenter Chris Packham has said.
In an impassioned plea ahead of a major debate at the Royal Society on Monday night, the patron of the World Land Trust said Britain had traditionally ignored the political challenges of conservation, choosing instead to focus on the plight of popular animals.
The presenter of the BBC’s Autumnwatch told The Independent: “For too long we’ve toyed with single-species conservation which focused on individual animals and pouring huge resources into those at the expense of doing too little about others.
“It’s not possible to save everything. The burgeoning human population and lack of resources for ourselves and other species mean we’ll have to play God at some point and decide what we’re going to do.”
Mr Packham added: “I have previously picked on the panda as a whipping boy. It is a very obvious totemic symbol that was picked on by campaigners for its cuteness and not its conservation value.”
Instead, a handful of unglamorous policy changes could do substantial good, he said. “Intensification of agriculture needs to be moderated. The [European] Common Agricultural Policy is in need of radical reform. Just these two things alone would have a profound and immediate impact on our landscape in terms of plant fauna, insect fauna and everything else that feeds upon it.”
In a scathing attack on Chinese consumption, he called for Britain to confront China on its record of animal crime and for “politically robust steps” to clamp down on demand. As living standards rise in China and the Far East, so too is demand for rhino horn, ivory and products made from parts of tigers, turtles and other endangered species.
He added: “Eighty per cent of the world’s wildlife crime is trafficked or ends up going through China. We know the demand of rhino horn, tiger bone or elephant ivory. Last month a boat was found off the coast of Mauritania with 90,000 gannets on it that were being taken back to China to be eaten.
“On current levels there will be no rhinos left in the next century and that’s because of the Chinese thirst for that product. We must address it. And that means talking about it and coming to a solution. At the moment no one has the balls to stand up and say it.”
Mr Packham intends to raise awareness of this at the Controversial Conservation debate in London tonight, which he will chair alongside environmentalist Mark Avery and conservation biologist Vivek Menon.