Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a genuine pleasure for Catherine and me to be here tonight at the Tusk Awards for Conservation in Africa to support a cause that has never been closer to our hearts than it is right now.
As you might have gathered, Catherine and I have recently become proud parents – of a baby who has a voice to match any lion’s roar! This is actually our first evening out without him, so please excuse us if you see us nervously casting surreptitious glances at our mobile phones to check all is well back home.
Like any new parents, our thoughts inevitably turn to the world that our child will inherit. It is unfathomable to imagine a world in which children who have been born in the past couple of months may grow up in a world in which rhinoceros have ceased to live in the wild. That disturbing fact is not a scare tactic which conservationists use – it is a genuine possibility, ladies and gentlemen– and not just for rhinos.
Last year, it is estimated that 35,000 elephants were killed for ivory trinkets. That statistic – 35,000 – needs no adjective in front of it such as ‘shocking’ or ‘staggering’. It is downright scary. The possibility of extinction is bad enough for one of our children growing up here in the West, who will never experience the magic of seeing a rhino on a new television documentary; or even for my own dear George, who Catherine and I very much hope to introduce to east Africa – a place we know and love – in the fullness of time.
But for a child growing up in Africa and whose birth-right and economic inheritance these creatures are, it is nothing more than immoral that he or she may never experience what his parents and grandparents knew and treasured. It is immoral because the problem is entirely of our own making. Human greed and ignorance have caused this, and so it is only by human endeavour – our endeavour – that we can reverse this trend. Having said all this, I sincerely hope that tonight will not leave you feeling depressed, as there is reason to have an immense amount of hope.
I share an optimism with many of you that we can win this battle, an optimism which I learnt largely from my own experiences on African conservancies, and from the likes of the peerless Charlie Mayhew and others at Tusk Trust.
Our hope manifests itself in the form of the proud faces you’ve seen tonight receiving their awards, and the many other stunning nominees around the room. Tusk Trust’s judging panel have this year honoured individuals protecting African species as diverse as the lemur, the vulture, elephants and marine life – and much, much more. And this is just Year One of the Tusk Awards!
In fact, I’m tempted to challenge Tusk in future years to find a nominee who protects a species that I’ve never even heard of – and I bet they will.
You see, there is so much good work going on which we can celebrate and get behind. I think sometimes, sat here, we can feel a little powerless to make a difference for species that we desperately care about. The focus that these Tusk Awards bring on a diverse group of brilliant conservationists provides a means of channelling our longing to help.
It is an honour, but also highly appropriate, that President Ali Bongo Odimba of Gabon and former President Obasanjo of Nigeria should be with us this evening. The President of Gabon has been widely praised by the international conservation community for the lead he has shown in Africa in tackling the escalating levels of wildlife crime. Indeed, as recently as June he ordered the symbolic burning of his country's Ivory stockpile - some five tonnes of elephant tusks seized from poachers. The move sent a strong signal to the world that illegal wildlife trafficking will not be tolerated in Gabon and we applaud him for this and the considerable investment that he has made in securing Gabon's extraordinary natural heritage.
Thank to you both, Your Excellencies, for being here tonight.
Despite the best efforts, Africa is in the midst of the worst poaching crisis for two decades. Some of the Continent’s most iconic and charismatic species are facing the real prospect of extinction in our lifetimes. For that reason, thank you, everyone, for supporting this cause; and to the Royal Society for hosting us.
And thank you especially to the nominees. I salute you for all you do, in the face of great odds, to stem the rush that we have created towards extinction. You deserve abundant support. Have a very good evening.