Magazine article Geographical

Fighting for Survival

Magazine article Geographical

Fighting for Survival

Article excerpt

Conservation charity Tusk Force leads the way in programmes to save endangered species in the United Kingdom and in other countries around the world

According to the latest Red List, 911 animal species are critically endangered and a quarter of the world's mammals are threatened with extinction. It is estimated that the current rate of extinction far exceeds that recorded over the past 400 years. Habitat destruction, agriculture, mineral and timber extraction, hunting, pollution, trade and the introduction of alien species have all played their part in threatening the survival of animal species.

Among those who care passionately about the world's endangered species is Tusk Force, a young and dynamic London-based wildlife charity. "One of Tusk Force's strengths is that we like to work with partners and coalitions to pool resources and expertise to maximise our impact, avoid duplication and deliver good value for money," says Neela Bettridge, Tusk Force's chief executive. "Our mission is to actively save endangered species through advocacy, education and field projects."

Tusk Force celebrates its 10th birthday next year. Yet despite its youth, the charity already supports an impressive portfolio of 11 species-specific programmes in as many countries, together with broader initiatives targeting international trade and habitat loss. This is even more remarkable considering Tusk Force has only eight permanent staff members, supported by a team of dedicated volunteers.

Tusk Force aims to change people's hearts and minds through education and public awareness. As part of its work in the UK, it has produced National Curriculum linked conservation resources for children, currently available in 10,000 schools. In collaboration with BBC Wildlife, and under the patronage of TV zoologist Chris Packham, the charity's Wild at Heart Conservation Awards scheme has attracted nearly 900 teams of children. The scheme, now in its second year, encourages children to find out for themselves about issues they care about and contribute to conservation on a local level.

One of the issues Tusk Force takes a special interest in is the international trade in wildlife, which is worth billions of pounds annually and requires strict monitoring and controls. Millions of dead and live wild animals and plants are shipped around the world each year to supply the trade in exotic pets, fur, leather, timber, ornamental plants, speciality foods and souvenirs, as well as a growing market for traditional oriental medicine. Illegal trade in wildlife is also big business. Most people are unaware that the illegal wildlife trade is second in size only to illegal drugs trading, and bigger than the trade in illegal arms.

Tusk Force addresses commercial wildlife trade issues through its involvement with CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora and several of its conservation programmes.

Intimately linked to problems of wildlife trade is traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). According to the Encyclopaedia of Traditional Chinese Medicine Substances, TCM uses 5,767 different preparations. Even though just 442 of these are of animal origin, TCM makes a significant contribution to the increasing decline of numerous wildlife species. Although some species have become threatened or endangered, TCM continues to use rhinos, tigers, bears, turtles, pangolins, musk deer and pythons, to name but a few. (Many UK practitioners have eschewed the use of endangered species, however.)

Increased wealth in countries such as China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore, means that demand for these products has significantly increased in recent decades. Discussions on how to meet the challenge posed by these unsustainable practices often reach a stalemate owing to sensitivities in consumer countries over cultural differences and Eastern versus Western philosophies. Yet the threat posed by TCM is very real. …

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