Born to the filmmakers who made ‘Born Free’, award-winning conservationist Will Travers fights for animal welfareacross the globe. Lekha Shankar caught up with him at the CITES conference in Bangkok.
The historic Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) conference held in Bangkok recently was attended by over 2,000 members from 178 countries. The delegates passed new rules for international trade in wildlife and plant species. Among them was Will Travers, president of the Species Survival Network (SSN), a coalition of nearly 100 organisations committed to the strict enforcement of the CITES resolutions.
Travers is also the CEO of the Born Free Foundation, the global animal advocacy organisation, named after the famous film made by his parents Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers in 1966. Travers was awarded an Order of the British Empire in 2012 for Services to Conservation and Animal Welfare. Excerpts from an interview:
How important is the CITES Conference for worldwide trade in wildlife?
Without doubt, this is the most important global meeting for wildlife trade. The decisions made are internationally binding and determine how the trade in wild species of animals and plants will be conducted in the next three years.
How does the Asian region figure in the wildlife trade?
Sadly, Southeast Asia and the Far East are heavily involved in illegal trade. Ivory trade is a big problem in Thailand. Africa is a leading source of ivory, rhino horn, and other wildlife items. And China is a leading ‘consumer’ market. Due to the crisis in tiger numbers, lion body parts are being used in China for traditional medicines. Consequently, lion numbers have fallen by 50 per cent.
What about India?
India has done very well. For one, it has managed to ban trade in ivory. In fact, in spite of its slow-moving bureaucracy and huge human population, India has done a lot to protect the environment. It has the highest number of wild elephants and tigers today, you know.
Are you happy with the deliberations at the Bangkok conference?
Yes, I think this was a historic conference. In Qatar (2010) and The Hague (2007), we considered shark and tree species, but could not secure the votes necessary to bring them the additional protection needed. However, here, decisions on five species of sharks and dozens of types of rosewood were taken; some by consensus. The Thai rosewood benefited by this. But I was disappointed that polar bear did not get the support for better protection.
Will it be easy to implement the Permits specified by the Conference?
Well, the countries have been given a fixed time-period to get cracking and effective enforcement is the key. There is a move to make the permits electronic, to render them more secure. But that’s also challenging, as many developing countries don’t have the infrastructure.
Which countries are doing impressive work for the protection of the wildlife species?
I was in Costa Rica recently, and was very impressed to see how much of the land is protected. There’s no legal sport hunting, no timber exports, and a lot of money is spent to protect the environment. Their living standards have improved and they have become a world leader in environmental protection.
What about Kenya, where you lived as a youngster?
In Kenya, 12 per cent of the GDP comes from wildlife tourism, and more than six million acres are officially protected as Reserves and National Parks. Thanks to their hard efforts, their elephant population has doubled. I spent a long time there, when I was young, and when my parents made Born Free .
What other methods are you using to spread the awareness for wildlife protection?
Social media. The Born Free Foundation uses Facebook and Twitter a lot, and the ‘Born Free’ song has recently been re-recorded with Brian May from the Queen. The CITES Conference may only happen once in three years, but I travel around the world throughout the year, to keep track of all the decisions taken there.