As a professional tennis player I'm fortunate to have travelled the world and because I'm really interested in wildlife I've been lucky enough to see some iconic wild animals in their natural habitat - something I appreciate not all of us get to do. But as we are all too aware, these habitats are changing and as a result the species are too. It horrifies me to know that in 2012, an estimated 22,000 elephants were killed for the illegal trade in their ivory or that the poaching of rhinos in South Africa alone increased from 13 in 2007 to over 1,000 in 2013, a huge increase of over 7,700%.
As illegal wildlife trade has grown and become more organised, it's now the fourth largest illegal transnational trade worldwide after drugs, counterfeiting and people trafficking. According to WWF, the equivalent of about three rhinos were poached every day in 2013. As someone who is very passionate about animals this is something that I really don't like hearing about. The illegal trade in animal parts is the biggest threat to many species and must be stopped. I decided to get more involved and support WWF because I love wildlife. I have since I was a kid. It all started when I watched wildlife programmes on television, and that passion just grew. Illegal wildlife trade needs to be stopped - we should be doing everything we can to protect these animals and that's why I decided to get involved with WWF.
Through my role as a global ambassador for WWF I will be supporting a programme in Nepal that trains sniffer dogs working on anti-poaching activities within Chitwan National Park.The use of sniffer dogs is one of the strategies WWF promotes in the fight to tackle poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. Seizures of wildlife parts such as rhino horn, tiger parts, skins of red panda and other big cats have been made in recent years in Nepal. There is high demand for these and many more wildlife parts especially in countries such as China and Vietnam. In order to reduce the threat of poaching, the demand for and trade in illegal wildlife parts also need to be controlled as part of the wider solution.
The sniffer dogs do an amazing job and they're incredibly intelligent animals. The dogs are designated a handler who they spend their entire careers with which means they form a strong relationship with that person. I think about my dogs Maggie May and Rusty and how happy they are when they see me. I like knowing that these dogs have a serious job to do but are also genuinely cared for like I care for my dogs. Some of the stuff they do was really surprising to learn. They're trained to sniff out guns and snares and other equipment used by poachers and even the routes these poachers use.
Raising money for the training of sniffer dogs is essential. The dogs are Belgian Shepherds. During training the dogs receive rewards but not the typical food rewards you might give your pet dog. Instead the dogs are given a bundled white towel for a game of tug of war. During each training session the handlers wear a special suit to foster the concept of the dog entering 'work' mode.
One of the two dogs in training will be named after me. 'Murray' will begin his career in Chitwan National Park, Nepal. When my schedule permits I can't wait to go and meet 'Murray' and see him in action.
Imagine a world where the only opportunity for future generations to see wild animals is in zoos or to hear tales of wild animals that exist only in our memories, all because someone wanted a rug made from a tiger skin or thought rhino horn was the best hangover cure, when in fact truth be known rhino horn is made from keratin, the same substance as in a human fingernail.
It's time to act now and stop poaching and illegal wildlife trade. Join me.