Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you for joining this event tonight.
Thank you, Deborah, for your kind words.
I would like to add my personal thanks to all our sponsors this evening – particularly Artemis and Land Rover, both of whom have been long standing partners of Tusk. Your support along with Justerini & Brooks, Lyceum Capital and ISPS Handa has ensured this evening’s success before we have even begun.
I know many of you here tonight also gathered at the dinner that was held for Tusk two years ago at Syon House. Since that evening, I am pleased to say that Tusk has continued to achieve great things. The charity has seen significant growth in its revenue and its investment into Africa.On top of that, enormous strides have been made in tackling the threat posed to so many species by the illegal wildlife trade, and the work of Tusk has been instrumental in this.
In the last two years, we have seen international condemnation in the strongest terms of the illegal trade at CITES and the IUCN. And we have also seen action to match the condemnation. China showed great leadership in announcing its intention to close its domestic ivory markets and, indeed, it has started to do so. I am pleased to say that the British Government recently announced its plans to restrict sales of ivory within the United Kingdom, as well.
In Africa, many governments have introduced much tougher sentencing and penalties for illegal trafficking. Kenya has witnessed a reduction in poaching following a big investment in wildlife protection. This is all very good news indeed. Two years ago, much of this would have seemed unthinkable. It is an all-too-rare example of the world coming together to advance a cause for the sake of all humankind.
Of course, now is not the time to be complacent. A lot more work is needed – rhino, lion, pangolin and many other species still face an existential threat because of the illegal wildlife trade.
For many of you, you will have heard me talk about the illegal trade before. It is barbaric, it destroys livelihoods and communities, and it supports organized crime. The world is a worse place for it, and we must stamp it out. I have always argued that, while the problem is serious, it is beatable. The good news of the past two years points to this.
Tackling this problem would provide a much needed morale boost to young people who share our concern about the natural world, and are faced with serious environmental problems to tackle in their lifetime. Many of these are much more complex than the illegal wildlife trade, so if we cannot tackle that, then it begs the question whether we will succeed with the even harder problems. Young people have to be encouraged, and they have to know that taking action can achieve results.
Because, believe me, there are many other challenges that we face.
In my lifetime we have seen global wildlife populations decline by over half. Africa’s rapidly growing human population is predicted to more than double by 2050 – a staggering increase of three and a half million people per month. There is no question that this increase puts wildlife and habitat under enormous pressure. Urbanisation, infrastructure development, cultivation – all good things in themselves, but they will have a terrible impact unless we begin to plan and to take measures now. On human populations alone, over-grazing and poor water supplies could have a catastrophic effect unless we start to think about how to mitigate these challenges.
We are going to have to work much harder, and think much deeper, if we are to ensure that human beings and the other species of animal with which we share this planet can continue to co-exist. When we look back, we have a mixed track record in this regard, but I am always optimistic when I observe how young people in particular, all over the world, are motivated to reverse the trends of the past.
One thing that has helped bring about this change in how the next generation views our world and that is access to information. There is a global conversation happening about how to make our world more liveable. Tusk, I am proud to say, has always demonstrated an impressive ability to engage in this conversation – through education, through listening, through genuine partnership with communities whose livelihoods are intertwined with the species’ preservations.
Tusk’s approach has always been to engage the people first. If local communities can draw down the benefits of fauna and flora, and have a genuine sense of ownership, then those same people are more likely to care for the world around them in a way that is genuinely sustainable. It is a simple proposition.
In effect, what Tusk has achieved in microcosm in a number of communities in Africa needs elevating to a much bigger scale. We now live in a world where half of the human population is urbanized, so it is incumbent on the likes of Tusk to work that much harder to educate and inform and listen.
In all likelihood the political and business leaders of tomorrow will emanate from the urban majority. How will they ever care to look after the planet if they have no connection with it?
And this is what your support for Tusk means. Widening their scope to engage, inform and educate, and to do this with great expertise in the continent of Africa. Africa remains the last great stronghold of some of the planet’s most stunning wildlife. As Sir David Attenborough expressed so eloquently last year at the Tusk Conservation Awards, there is quite simply nowhere else on earth that can offer such richness – it is the greatest natural show on earth.
Tusk has proven its extraordinary ability to identify and support some of Africa’s most impactful conservation projects – playing a vital role in holding the front line for many species. Tusk deserves our full support for their important work and I hope this evening you will all dig deep to ensure that Tusk can continue to provide the leadership that it so brilliantly does.