Rhinos, orangutans and tigers are on the brink of extinction. Last year 668 rhinos were poached in South Africa alone, rising from only 13 in 2007. Elephants are also increasingly being hunted and killed for their ivory with levels at their highest since records began. If poaching continues at this rate, then these truly magnificent animals will certainly become extinct in some countries in our lifetime.
The threat to these animals is varied. Internationally, the demand for traditional Asian medicines, which use parts of tigers, rhinos and elephants is skyrocketing. Rhino horn powder is a popular ingredient in these so called medicines and some people believe they can cure diseases like cancer. There is absolutely no scientific evidence that this is the case. Rhino horn is made of exactly the same substance as our finger nails. In order to stop these animals being killed we are calling on people to turn their back on traditional Asian medicines containing the body parts of these endangered animals.
In the UK, the illegal trade in endangered species is a wildlife crime priority. Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) manages a rhino horn DNA database which will help combat the increasing thefts of antique rhino horn held at museums. Live rhinos in UK zoos have also become a target. I am convinced that the DNA database, which will hold DNA samples of all rhino horn held in the UK, will help the police to secure more convictions and prevent smugglers making bogus claims to rhino horns.
Back in March the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) met in Bangkok to discuss wildlife conservation, sustainable trade and key issues around illegal wildlife crime. I am particularly pleased that a range of proposals to improve elephant and rhino conservation were accepted.
But I am keen that we all do more to save these animals for future generations and that we act fast to give them a fighting chance. This is why we have joined up with key wildlife organisations, zoos and safari parks on the ‘If They’re Gone…’ endangered species campaign. Together I want us to raise awareness of the increasing threat to these animals and inspire people to take action.
There are many ways in which people can help. Elephants are being killed for their ivory; rhinos and tigers for the use of their body parts in a variety of ways. By saying no to products made from ivory, rhino horn or tiger we can lower the demand. This will ultimately result in fewer of these animals being killed.
Habitat destruction for illegal palm oil plantations is also a major threat to orangutans. Many everyday items such as cleaning products and cosmetics contain palm oil so by looking for products which only use palm oil from sustainable sources we can make a difference and give a chance to the remaining 6,600 wild Sumatran orangutans.