Sarah Champion is the Labour Member of Parliament for Rotherham, and Chair of the International Development Committee. She writes for BIAZA on the role zoos and aquariums have to play in the UK’s activities across the world:
As an MP, I am often aghast at the scale of the crises we face on many fronts, but equally inspired by those making a difference against the odds. Among those are the conservationists, supported by UK zoos and aquariums, that have continued to fight to reverse the destruction of nature; putting communities at the heart of innovative projects and producing transformative benefits for people and wildlife alike.
Conservation means that we protect and maintain a diversity of species and ecosystems, as well as functions of the environment. As Chair of the International Development Committee, I know how conservation can be a powerful force for good for both people and wildlife across the world. Habitat destruction, climate change, overexploitation, and pollution are all driving biodiversity loss and it is absolutely vital that we tackle the effects by funding excellent projects across the world.
Sadly, recent cuts to the UK overseas aid budget will see the funding for these crucial projects drastically reduced. In their written evidence to my committee’s inquiry into the Future of UK Aid, the Galapagos Conservation Trust stated that the UK Aid budget cut has jeopardised the future of the Plastic Pollution Free Galapagos (PPFG) programme due to a severe reduction in grant funding. The threat posed to the Galapagos by plastic pollution is particularly high due to a combination of endangered endemic species and the high pollution load entering the system that is not reflective of local usage. Without this work, the region’s biodiversity could be at severe threat.
Zoos and aquariums are one of the many types of organisations carrying out such incredible conservation work. There are many examples of zoos and aquariums driving conservation in addition to looking after their own animals…
Established by the Wild Planet Trust who run Paignton and Newquay Zoos, the Selamatkan Yaki project in Indonesia has been protecting the endangered Sulawesi Crested Macaque, tracking people’s attitudes to this beautiful monkey and setting up a forum between local villages to empower local communities through conservation.
Closer to my constituency of Rotherham, the brilliant Yorkshire Wildlife Park Foundation has helped to fund a Polar Bears International education programme, educating school children living side by side with wild polar bears in Canada, Greenland and Russia.
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of visiting Chester Zoo. The Zoo is involved in the conservation of Asian elephants in Assam. The forests there have some of the highest levels of human-elephant conflict, putting people and wildlife at serious risk. The project is reducing these dangerous conflicts through deterrents (such as fences to protect agricultural livelihoods) and through the community’s participation in conservation action.
All these projects manifest much more widely than the individual species and communities they focus on. By protecting elephants we can protect their habitats – home to thousands of other, equally unique and precious, species. By working with communities living side by side with animals, we can provide new and greater opportunities for regions where such opportunities may be too few and too sparse.
Zoos and aquariums also deliver a great deal of formal education sessions to all kinds of people- further demonstrating their important role in connecting people and nature.
The coronavirus pandemic, however, has hit conservation hard. No Government funding existed to support the conservation work of zoos in England or Wales. The Zoos Animal Fund, which was put in place to support zoos during the pandemic, was very inaccessible for the vast majority of zoos, with just 12% of the £100 million fund being spent by the time it closed. This money should be ring-fenced and made available to benefit zoos work preventing the extinction of animals and protecting them from other risks.
If we want our zoos to go further, to continue proudly act on the world stage as a force for good, then this must be backed up by long term Government support.
Conservation aid projects and the conservation work of zoos can go hand-in-hand to prevent biodiversity loss across the world. The Government should play a key role in helping them to do so. Unfortunately, the Government is currently failing to support both. Be assured I will continue to urge them to give sufficient support to this important work.
By Sarah Champion M.P.
All blogs reflect the views of their author and are not a reflection of BIAZA's positions.
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