I have a confession to make. Although I’ve been what acquaintances have often referred to as ‘one of those animal rights people’ for the thick end of thirty years, I have never attended a formal protest. Having staged small, individual protests at school (refusing to cook with meat in home economics, opting out of the ‘humans are superior to animals’ rhetoric in religious education classes, that sort of thing) I found them to be quite useful. Even if my little acts of non conformity didn’t affect immediate change, they certainly made people stop and think. Those who stick to the norm through passiveness are often pleasantly surprised by someone who takes a different path. It makes them go ‘hmm’ and it plants a seed in their brain.
It was with this lack of experience in mind that I, somewhat apprehensively, joined the Edinburgh March Against Extinction on Saturday 3rd October, organised by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. The march was a protest against the exploitation and needless killing of Rhinos, Lions and Elephants in Africa and was just one of many such marches taking place globally over the weekend.
Awareness of this problem was of course given quite a shot in the arm by the recent case of poor Cecil the lion, who was murdered by an American dentist. It seems that lions are not only hunted for fun (and in exchange for lots and lots of money) but also bred and raised to be petted by tourists. They’re kept in captivity and then when they get too big to be cuddly they are released to be hunted by rich idiots with more money than sense.
Elephants fare little better, with one being killed every fifteen minutes, according to the Trust’s website. They’re killed for their tusks, despite being worth more to the tourist trade alive. Scant regard is given to the fact that elephants are social animals who play a vital role not only in their own herds but to the ecosystem in general. There are even some countries in Africa where the elephant is already extinct – Senegal and Sierra Leone, to name but two.
Rhinos are killed for their horn which is believed, wrongly, to have medicinal benefits by some cultures, mostly in China. Rhino horn does nothing to help headaches or impotence or any other ailments. All it does is kill Rhinos, who are another precious species we must save from extinction.
The protest itself went very well. A warm Edinburgh day (yes, you read that correctly) attracted over a hundred people to march from the Scottish Parliament, through the streets of Edinburgh, to the square outside the Scottish National Gallery. On arrival I met some friendly types from Network for Animals, a small charity concerned with affecting change throughout the world on all sorts of animal welfare issues. They offered me a placard, which I gratefully accepted (I’d been too disorganised to make my own) and we set off, chanting and chatting and hoping we’d make an impact.
On our way we passed many people (Edinburgh’s always pretty busy on a Saturday) who seemed to smile and stare, but were mainly preoccupied with taking our picture. However others, including several groups of tourists atop the open top bus, (whom we must’ve been delaying due to the brief road closures) waved and gave us the thumbs up, showing I think that this issue is a no brainer for most people.
On arrival at the National Gallery, we were treated to talks by those running the march, giving us more information. A crowd had gathered, so I really hope we touched some other people with the plight of African wildlife and perhaps inspired them to action.
The outrage surrounding Cecil’s death shows that the public do care, but we simply need to harness that outrage and direct it in such a way that gets through to the hunters and breeders and poachers. We need to let them know that the money should be in caring for the environment and keeping wildlife alive, not ruining the ecosystem exploiting animals for profit. The killing must stop, or else extinction of these beautiful creatures will happen, and soon.
If you’d like to know more about the plight of wildlife in Africa, and perhaps do something to help, check out the following: