The fire behind the campaign
Behind every campaign is a story, or an inspiration. All campaigners need a fire inside them and a passion to bring about real change.
The story behind our wildlife campaign begins 13 years ago around a campfire in the Namibian desert.
I was talking with Blythe Loutit, the inspirational founder of the Save the Rhino Trust about a visit I’d made to the Metropolitan Police’s Wildlife Crime Unit. This specialist division had been created to tackle the growing problem of wildlife crime in London, spurred on by what remains the world’s largest seizure of Rhino horns in Kensington and Chelsea. But the Unit was a bit of an oddity – it was set up for all the right reasons but it didn’t really fit anywhere into the Met’s policing model. It had to fight for operational resources, and was seen as a bit “left field”. No-one was very optimistic about its future.
I recounted all this to Blythe as she stared into the fire, and when she spoke, she sounded weary. “For years now I’ve been doing all I can to try and stop the poachers here. Without my team looking after the rhinos, they’d have gone already. But I’ve done that thinking that all round the world, there’s other efforts going on to do the same. Every government, police force, border control doing everything they can. And now you’re telling me they just treat wildlife crime like some sort of option?”
“I want you to make me a promise. We can put ourselves between the poachers and the rhinos every day but it’s not going to make a blind bit of difference if specialist groups like that Unit are being closed down. People like you can do the things we can’t and we need you to help us. Do this for us.”
Blythe wasn’t the sort of person who would let you get away with not sticking to a promise.
When I joined World Animal Protection, one of the first things I did was visit the Unit. Its head was about to retire, one officer was emigrating. There was a single officer left. Things were not looking good.
It struck me that if we could provide some stop-gap funding to the Unit, we might also buy some breathing space where we could make the case for its survival. We worked with the Met to tot-up what a properly resourced Unit would cost to run for a year, on a matched-funding basis. And then the hard work began. We’d created a life-line for the Unit but now we had to make the case that it was too important to lose. And we certainly couldn’t fund it forever.
The campaign we ran alongside the funding threw a spotlight on the Unit and make a compelling case for its survival, as a fighting force against wildlife crime that was in every way part of mainstream policing. It took us to the House of Commons, to City Hall, to New Scotland Yard. We enlisted some powerful and passionate supporters, created alliances in Parliament across the political spectrum, and as the voices grew louder, so did the pressure to safeguard the Units work – pressure that more than anything came from the tens of thousands of our supporters who responded to our calls.
Blythe knew that the battle to safeguard wildlife from poaching and trade was not one she could win alone. Everyone who has been a part of our campaign to safeguard the Unit has been one of those she asked to help. And everyone should know that in doing so, you have played a part and answered her call.
In memory of Blythe Loutit (1940 – 2005)