There is a good reason why world leaders, zoologists and conservationists are gathering this week in London. There is a crisis. The planet has never been in more danger of losing sustainable populations of animals that have lived in harmony with nature for hundreds of thousands of years. True, many have been in decline since man began to encroach on their habitats; the fate of the dodo attests to that. But it is something we should never regard as natural.
The scale of wildlife crime has grown so serious that unless some effective action is taken immediately, many of the earth’s most fabulous creatures will be lost forever. Already, for some sub-species of rhino and tiger, it is too late. Even those that seemed least at risk – such as the elephants this newspaper has been campaigning for – could be virtually wiped out if industrial-scale poaching is allowed to continue. A world where there is just one wild rhinoceros left alive in Malawi, for example – under guard in a zoo – is a world impoverished.
Much of the talk this week at symposia and press conferences will revolve around the links that the poachers and smugglers have to organised crime, to terrorists, and the drugs dealers. These are obviously vital issues, ones that directly affect the living standards and safety of citizens throughout the West. They also happen to be the most important reasons why governments have become more alarmed about poaching and smuggling.
Many African nations are also concerned about the impact on their image and on their tourist trade. And yet the greatest damage, the irreversible harm, is to the environment itself. As the floods in much of southern England and Wales remind us, climate change is real and a result of man’s despoliation of his environment – which includes the destruction of species vital to the local ecologies.
The Independent – supported by its sister papers i, The Independent on Sunday and the London Evening Standard – has campaigned vigorously, and our readers have responded magnificently, raising more than £400,000 for our charity appeal. We hope David Cameron’s guests this week will follow that example.