Each morning as I open my eyes and fresh thoughts come into my head, I fixate on one thing: that I need to do something substantial to change the present state of play on Earth.
Changing the world is taking me a little longer that I thought it would. At the age of thirteen or fourteen I was sure I could pull this off before going to university. I imagined people of the future marching in the streets waving banners of protest not for politics or human rights but for the Earth. My teenage daydream was for a noble revolution on behalf of the silent voices of lions and leopards, elephants and rhinos; the animals I had grown up with in Africa and listened to at night as they called and called, but it felt like I was the only one listening. That was 44 years ago.
If you wake and start worrying about statistics; a rhino being shot every 8.3 hours each day, five lions a day and five elephants an hour being killed, its tempting to turn over and go back to sleep, but there is good news. Think about it. In 1970 the prevailing wisdom was that it was perfectly acceptable to save up some oil money and fly to Africa to shoot the Big Five, for fun, for recreation, to prove manhood or power. Every presidential candidate was sure to be photographed with at least a shotgun in his hand, and then one chap shot the face off another and it became unfashionable. Ivory was being traded openly and rhino horn was easy to buy. In 1970 there were over 3 million elephants, perhaps a lot more than that. Big hair and big shoulders were fashionable and it was an age of innocence from a conservation standpoint in Africa. A time when fighting poachers was romantic but a little unfair, with .303 rifles against arrows and spears. Things have certainly changed. Now poachers have silenced rifles and night vision glasses bought on budgets supported by the $65,000 a kilogram street price of rhino horn and anti poaching forces still have their WWII .303's.
This year Botswana banned all hunting, which means no bows and arrows or high-powered telescopic sighted rifles. No shots may be fired at wildlife (or people actually.) Wildlife, the President has said, is a national asset and needs to be preserved and protected, and I believe him. President Khama was behind the massive military effort to wipe poaching out of Botswana, and then later to re-introduce rhinos. He was behind getting lion hunting banned, then leopards, and now all hunting. He is opposed to trade and in particular trafficking of their skins, bones, horns and teeth.
Earlier this year there was a march in various locations across the world, a March for Lions. Bishop Desmond Tutu attended one in Cape Town, where the government sanctions a despicable trade commonly known as 'Canned Lion Hunting,' where lions are bred and hand-raised and then often dragged out into a slightly bigger pen for hunters to take shots at and ultimately kill, to take the trophy back to hang on a wall at home as a sign of bravery or something I can't quite wrap my head around. If your stomach is turning, it proves that we have come a long way, as a society.
South Africa has also opened up 'lion bone' licenses where over 1,000 skeletons are sold into the trade, to go to the Far East. There, the bones are pickled into wine, often as tiger bone, and enjoyed on auspicious occasions like New Year or to cure ailments like cancer, sagging libido, asthma or just about anything that ails you. By doing so the South African government, that knows this is all bogus, probably commits a more heinous act than just applying more pressure to tigers, now struggling to maintain numbers over 3,000 in the world, and to lions in Africa, but by selling something they know does not work, and encouraging poor people in the East to spend their limited cash on absolute rubbish. The one billion emerging middle class Chinese are also being sold lion bone or rhino horn that just does not work, don't deserve to be duped like this either. It's outrageous. But that is the point; we do see it as outrageous today.
Outrage is a precursor to action and as I look back at 44 years, I can recall the outrage and the action as it was when I was imagining it. Today, I also see ivory stores in China, Hong Kong, Tanzania, Malaysia, Denver, Belgium all going up in smoke or being crushed. I see hunting being banned. I see Mozambique changing its laws to stop poaching, and Kenya getting legislation that increases fines 100 fold. I hear Hillary Clinton being outraged at the poaching and Chelsea
Clinton committing funding to fight it from their foundation. Leaders of states used to look at the likes of Greenpeace as maverick rabble rousers who chained themselves to trees, and now they consult with them. Al Gore debunkers now admit (largely) that climate change is taking hold in visible ways and that perhaps, just perhaps if the Greenies are wrong, and nothing is going to happen, we haven't lost anything by recycling our plastics.
Once I met a man in the office of his house, and as we wrapped up the meeting, I saw two large elephant tusks behind the door. I asked why he had them and why he hid them. He answered, "If I displayed these my 10-year-old daughter would never talk to me again." Protest is coming from the children.
Invited out to dinner one day, my host took me on a tour of his house. Surprised by the animal skins and trophies in the house, I paused, and my host asked me why? "Nothing," I replied, "I was just thinking how beautiful the zebra skins that you have lying lifelessly on the floor must have looked on the live animal in the bush. In addition were the elephant feet, which had crushed the sand on ancient paths for half a century, before they settled here." My host's 7-year-old son over heard us. Later the boy tugged at my sleeve and asked, "What should we do with them?" My reply to him was "I'd burn them, throw them away, even put them in my car if you would like. I'd rather live with live things, not dead ones." At the end of the evening my car was filled with skins and disgusting trophies to dispose of. I drove away from a smiling boy and his less impressed father, who were holding hands.
Action turns into policy with enough voices behind it, and perhaps, we can one day claim that Earth Day is also our day.