THE BLOG

2015 - Year of the Fox, the Badger and the Elephant?

05/01/2015 18:16 GMT | Updated 07/03/2015 10:59 GMT

It's here. 2015 has hit - wow, they really do come around quick don't they? It doesn't seem long ago that everyone was hitting it hard on Millennium Eve, full of hope for the future, hope only quasi-quashed by the fear of an imminent Millennium bug-led societal breakdown. Now, 15 years later, the world is in a new place but is it a better one?

As Director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), I see many positives each and every year. I get to meet truly inspirational people, learn about and witness truly moving acts, but alongside that, heading up a large wildlife and welfare charity, I see and hear lots of sad and bad things too. Each year we talk of the need to act to make the world a better place and that anything other than making immediate deep-rooted change simply isn't going to be an option. Each year we push harder, find new and innovative ways to tackle wildlife crime and animal welfare issues, but with each year come new challenges, more negative statistics for animals, more doom and gloom.

Last year was a bit different though. We saw a new energy and a new drive to halt the killing of elephants and rhinos, to stop creatures like pangolins from having their scales made into soup, initiatives and actions to stop tourists making sloppy decisions about dolphinaria and dodgy tiger temples. In London in February, senior world figures gathered, united by Prince William and then Secretary of State, William Hague, to unite in their fight against those taking our wildlife away. From the Conference, The London Declaration emerged - pledging actions, not just talk. We'll soon find out how that panned out, as in March a follow-up review meeting will take place in Botswana.

Global interest, and indeed global anger, at the illegal ivory trade peaked and mainstream media started really talking conservation. Japan even lost a case at the International Court of Justice which ruled that Japan's Antarctic 'scientific whaling' programme wasn't actually scientific, which was clearly old news to most of us, but the case meant that Japan's Southern Ocean Whaling programme at the time, known as Jarpa II, was ruled illegal and had to stop.

But, 2014 wasn't without challenges (to put it mildly). Elephants still got slaughtered - wholesale (likely to be around 35,000 killed in Africa alone in just 12 months), rhino poachers broke a record that Guinness won't be publishing, with a new high of way over 1,000 rhinos killed for their 'medicinal' horn (even though it's just made of keratin, like fingernails). We even saw reports of people speculating in rhino horn and endangered wildlife parts as a commodity - a move from the traditional medicinal use - something we've coined as 'from health to wealth'. All of this was set against a backdrop of South Africa preparing to seek to legalise the sale of rhino horn, something that would irreversibly decimate the last bunch of rhino herds in a flash.

Closer to home, the government adopted the age old mantra of 'if at first you don't succeed, then try, try and try again', as it continued to seek to find science to justify policy rather than staying old school and doing it the right way around when it came to the badger cull. The cull saw more than 600 badgers pointlessly killed to appease a minority of farmers and Union folk (and to get some rural votes). Actually, on the topic of rural votes, there was also Cameron's rather sneaky attempt at a back-door repeal of the Hunting Act. Thanks to some quick-witted thinking from my office colleagues at IFAW that didn't happen. And, Japan soon had a change of heart and began looking for scientists to advise as it set about developing a proposal for a 'new' scientific whaling programme - back in the Antarctic.

So, what holds 2015. Hunting Act repeal? More badger culling? More elephant and rhino slaughter? Let's hope not. For British wildlife much depends on the results of the General Election and also on each Party's manifestos. For the issue of the illegal global wildlife trade we've got the Botswana conference, as mentioned earlier. This will be a review of actions against each country's declarations from the 2014 London Conference and hopefully some best practice sharing and also global support with resources. New initiatives are being developed as we speak re stabilisation of communities to prevent poaching threats, changing the way we use field intelligence and, at the consumer end of things, high level, public engagement and behavioural change (demand reduction) work from IFAW and others is going from strength to strength.

What's clear though is that something has to give. I'm not sure if it's just a New Year thing but strangely I think we may have reached a tipping point. Wildlife, this could be your year.