Don't give up, we can save the animals

The challenge is now to save the planet’s natural wonders "one by one" as storm clouds gather again. Last week saw the United Nations publish an 1,800-page apocalyptic vision of a million species being swept to extinction because of the soaring human population’s demands for food, land and resources. A beacon of hope shines amid the tsunami of devastation. The SOS message may be a little more pragmatic than Noah’s binary mission, but saving animals one at a time is the challenge of one of the most effective and forward-looking welfare and conservation charities on the planet. 

The International Fund for Animal Welfare is celebrating 50 years of rescuing and protecting wildlife, pets and livestock from the ills of a modern world. Tackling whaling and elephant poaching, rescuing stranded marine life and saving captive big cats are just a few of the myriad missions it has mounted since being founded to stop the commercial hunting of Canadian seals in the late 1960s.

I have witnessed IFAW’s work first hand, visiting Iceland where whales are still commercially hunted and seeing tourists being persuaded to watch these wonderful creatures on organised tours rather than sampling their flesh in Reykjavik’s restaurants. Attending the charity’s annual House of Lords awards ceremony where the unsung heroes of animal welfare are feted has long been one of the highlights of my year.

IFAW’s Marine Mammal Rescue and Research team at Cape Cod recently celebrated its 5,000th call out to save stranded dolphins and whales, while in Burkina Faso a young elephant called Nania is being prepared for a return to the wild after being found wandering alone.

On a global scale, IFAW’s credo is bringing people together, be they scientists, decision makers, park rangers, farmers or fishermen, to confront the challenges that leave the planet’s natural heritage floundering. Working with local people and communities is the essence of its work. It creates an air of optimism in a worrying age.

As IFAW president and chief executive Azzedine Downes told me: “The report released last week paints a very sombre picture of what humanity has done to the planet, but I will turn to good friend and mentor Dr Jane Goodall and her message of hope rather than despair. 

“As humans, we have destroyed but we also have the capacity to repair. If we lose hope, we simply will not survive. At IFAW, it is our mission to inspire hope.

“In our work, we know that people around the world hold different views and propose different solutions. And we also know this work will take all of us in order to create a more healthy, sustainable and just world. So let’s get to work – together.”

Saving individual animals one at a time also creates a momentum that can be mankind’s own salvation.

“Humans make up less than one percent of all life on Earth, but we have destroyed 83 percent of all wild animals and half of plants on the planet,” explains Mr Downes. “Still, we’re hopeful. Every species and every habitat has the ability to bounce back, and every person, everywhere has the chance to act. The future depends on what we do now.

“This work takes all of us. By rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing animals, one by one – by protecting their habitats and helping them flourish – we can save other species. And our own.”

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