Continuing our series of conversations with conservationists working to protect wildlife and wild places we were lucky enough to get some insight from Iris Ho, who works with Human Society International (HSI). Iris came to Ruaha a couple of years ago to see STEP and Wildlife Connections' beehive fence projects in the villages around Ruaha. Iris travels the world advocating for animals, from the glitzy conferences of London to the dusty villages of Kitisi, and she knows a thing or two about conservation:
What are HSI up to in Africa and what is your role there?
HSI has a regional office in Africa headquartered in Cape Town, South Africa. A significant portion of HSI’s work is driving transformational changes for animals and strengthening protections, from national to international policy levels, for imperilled wild animals. Policy advocacy is imperative to protecting the wildlife that we treasure and love because a policy change could affect the lives of hundreds or thousands animals in one instant. For instance, I work closely with colleagues in South Africa on exposing the shameful captive lion breeding industry which underpins the lion cub petting scam, canned lion hunting and the line bone trade. Another part of my work portfolios is about saving elephants and working on banning the elephant ivory trade.
You have just returned from the IWT conference in London, beyond the hype, what did you take away from the event?
I attended the very first IWT conference in London in 2014. The UK government has put a lot of efforts in making their second time hosting the IWT conference a stellar success with concrete results to show. I applaud the UK government in ramping up the international commitment to combat wildlife trafficking – the UK government has not only been finalizing a near total ban on elephant ivory trade but also has established Ivory Alliance 2024, a global initiative dedicated to tackling elephant poaching, ivory trafficking and shutting down domestic ivory markets worldwide. I find that inspiring and am hopeful to advance our collective efforts to make elephant ivory trade yesterday’s history.
I wrote about the last one in 2014, what do you think has changed in that time?
Since 2014 we have seen a tremendous, and to some degree, a sea change in how ivory consumption is viewed – buying and selling elephant ivory products is now a taboo and controversial. Majority of the public are much more aware of the poaching epidemic, the cruelty associated with it, and the threat of extinction facing elephants. We’ve witnessed the commitment from the highest level of political leaders when President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping made a joint commitment to close the domestic ivory markets in the U.S. and China.
Setting aside the discussion on elephants, I have been glad to see discourse on IWT expand to other species, such as pangolins. Illegal wildlife trade is a multibillion dollar criminal enterprise, affecting every continent and a multitude of terrestrial and marine species.
In the UK we are busy slaughtering what little wildlife we have left and extracting fossil fuels in the dirtiest way possible. Why should African countries listen to us about protecting their wildlife (sorry tough question!)?
No country is perfect. Combating poaching and wildlife trafficking requires global efforts. It is not about a country telling another country what to do, but rather, it is about countries, may it be policymakers or even the public, band together with a common purpose to protect wildlife and to stop wildlife crime. It might sound cliché but wildlife is truly a shared natural heritage for all regardless of your nationality or ethnicity. While I am a Taiwan-born American living in Washington, DC, I travel internationally to see wildlife, whether it is leopards in Zambia, elephants in Tanzania, or I hope one day I will get to see whale sharks in Mexico (or Mozambique) or mountain gorillas in Rwanda. And I welcome your readers in other countries to travel to the U.S. and see grizzly bears in the Yellowstone National Park one day.
What can people do to be more aware of the illegal wildlife trade?
Spread the word among your friends and family about the importance of protecting wildlife. Information is power. Help the people around you become wildlife advocates like you. Be a humane and compassionate traveler and avoid purchasing wildlife products or partaking in activities that exploit wild animals.
If it helps, HSI has a “Don’t Buy Wild” consumer guide to wildlife-friendly living.
Any advice for budding young conservationists out there?
Network, network and network. This might be a given to young millennium conservationists but I will throw it out anyway. Social media is probably the most important medium to stay on top of wildlife conservation news of the day and stay in touch with advocates and experts around the world. I have come to and stay connected with many young African conservationists I know through social media.