Sometimes life can be really astonishing and yesterday was most certainly one of those moments, when I rather surprisingly found myself at Buckingham Palace to witness an extraordinary event. The signing of a rare Buckingham Palace Declaration for a major global agreement to crack down on wildlife trafficking routes.
The Duke of Cambridge, as President of “United for Wildlife” has been busy putting his influence to good use and yesterday he unveiled an ambitious, transport-industry led Declaration developed by the transport sector. With his backing and leadership there is a far greater possibility that a real difference can be made to saving the African elephant, rhinoceros and other endangered species. One hundred thousand African elephants have been poached in the last three years and their deaths now exceed their birth rates. ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND!!! Can you actually imagine that? That is more than 100 African elephants being killed every day for their ivory. The numbers are so huge that something equally huge needs to be done to stop it from happening and this global agreement may just be it.
The United for Wildlife International Taskforce (although I’d change this to “Tuskforce” and briefly mentioned this to Lord Hague on my way out…just saying) on the Transportation of Illegal Wildlife Products” led by Lord Hague of Richmond (Richmond?? Since when?) and comprising of leaders from all round the globe have spent the last year working on an 11 point agreement that was signed before my eyes at Buckingham Palace. United For Wildlife is an unprecedented alliance between seven of the world’s most influential conservation organisations and The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. The collaboration between the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Conservation International (CI), Fauna & Flora International (FFI), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), WWF-UK and The Royal Foundation hopes to lead the way to substantially increase the global response to major conservation crisis.
I am really not sure who invited me or if indeed it was a mistake. Arriving at the side entrance of the palace I was surrounded by huge cameras belonging to the likes of the BBC and ITN news….and me.
Look, guess where I am?
We were taken through strict security, but I didn’t bring a camera because I thought it said “Strictly No Photography” so all I had was my phone. We wandered through the bowels of the palace (am I allowed to say that or will I be put in the Tower?) to find ourselves in an opulent room waiting for Lord Hague to come and talk to us. Then we were invited to witness the signing and I found myself standing in between two massive video cameras on tripods, holding out my phone for the official photos and all the while waiting for a tap on the shoulder to ask me what on earth I was doing there. So apologies, my photos are not really up to standard given the circumstances!
I truly couldn’t believe that the Palace communications team et al had been brave and progressive enough to invite a little old blogger like me to their event. That said, of course it is a cause very close to my heart and I’ve written a lot about it and worked with Space for Giants, so I decided to just relax and get on with the show.
The whole event was remarkably relaxed, just as Prince William likes things to be, with virtually no red tape to be seen anywhere and I felt ridiculously privileged to be there, especially as it’s so rare to mark occasions like this at Buckingham Palace. I just wished I’d been brave enough to ask for a selfie with him!
Sneaky photo in the throne room:-
Lord Hague chatting with the press….and me:-
This Buckingham Palace Declaration recognises that while an open and efficient transportation structure is key for the world economy, the exploitation of shipping and trade routes by traffickers enables violence, corruption, crime and deprivation that present a threat to communities around the world. Therefore it is focusing on one of the crucial missing links – the third element – the vulnerabilities in transportation and customs that are being exploited by traffickers to move their spoils from killing field to marketplace. As Lord Hague said “the convening power of the British Royal Family will motivate this to happen and is part of the link that will make it much harder for this to happen.” He went on to say that it was “really too late, but not quite too late to save our endangered species.”
They have brought together a strong critical mass of some of the biggest players in the field of road, sea and air in order to shut down the most vulnerable points in global transportation.
I actually witnessed approximately 40 signatories agreeing to 11 commitments:-
The three main areas they are going to be focusing on are:-
1. Zero tolerance and raising awareness for customs staff around the world.
2. Securing information sharing systems about high risk routes and then working with law enforcement agencies.
3. Cross disciplinary teams who can work in ports to develop best practices for cargoes suspected of containing illegal wildlife and their products.
The Duke of Cambridge went on to make clear that iconic animals such as the elephant and the rhinoceros would be extinct before his daughter Charlotte reached her 21st birthday unless something was done immediately. “If we do not turn this around in the next five years then we will have lost this battle forever”, he said. What came across strongly was his responsibility towards his children and to future generations and the sort of world they will inherit.
His message was quite clearly that time is running through our hands and we must, must, must stop the flow and plug the gaps in what is to be a mammoth (excuse the pun) task.
“Lets step up to the challenge. We cannot afford to waste a single day.”
After his speech, both Lord Hague (of Richmond) and the Duke of Cambridge signed the agreement along with the 40 or so big hitters in the transportation sector:-
William Hague signing:-
The Campaign Trail for “United For Wildlife” begins: #WhoseSideAreYouOn
Then everyone mingled and drank tea and chatted whilst I continued to wonder what I was doing there before taking a photo of the whole team “TuskForce” (my title for them) together. Of course, not having my proper camera or my phone fish eye lens meant that I couldn’t fit everyone in!
Mingling and still waiting for the tap on the shoulder:-
The Duke of Cambridge talking to Andy Harmer, Director of CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association)
Me having a cup of coffee and looking ridiculously pleased with myself (and Duchy biscuits of course)!
So you see? This is what I mean by astonishing moments…there I sit, in front of my computer screen blogging my little heart out about life, loving my “Imagine The World” cup of tea and looking at a map of the world whilst chaos goes on around my house and then suddenly an email drops into my inbox inviting me to Buckingham Palace. “Imagine The World” indeed….one that gives just as much right to our animals as we have to inhabit the world. Then sometimes you can do even more than that. You can actually make a difference simply by writing about it and spreading the word. I feel very humbled to have been invited to play a little part in the very, very much bigger picture. This crisis threatens the existence of some of the oldest species on the planet, but with this major declaration in place, perhaps my new imagined world, our future landscape, won’t be so bleak.