Hundreds of passionate young conservationists gathered at the World Youth Wildlife Summit on Heritage Day and World Rhino Day in September, in a bid to save Africa’s valuable but threatened animal resources.
The summit was held at the Southern African Wildlife College on the border of the Kruger Park. It was hosted by Project Rhino, African Conservation Trust and the Kingsley Holgate Foundation with support from USAID Southern Africa’s VukaNow activity. The event aimed to inspire, educate and empower African youth about wildlife crime, conservation, ecotourism, habitat loss and the responsible use of wildlife resources.
The summit saw experienced conservationists, wildlife vets and anti-poaching experts share emotional insights about the rapid loss of Africa’s wildlife resources. Pictured are veteran conservationists Kingsley Holgate and Richard Mabanga addressing the young wildlife warriors. Mabanga is a tireless campaigner for youth awareness of wildlife resources and biodiversity. He visits schools in KwaZulu-Natal to teach young people about conservation. Holgate is an explorer, humanitarian and author, utilising his Africa travels to save lives.
Delegates signed a powerful declaration that will travel the world on fundraising expeditions and be presented to political and conservation leaders, including delegates at the 2020 IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseilles, France. The text of the declaration reads: “We the youth are deeply disturbed by the worsening wildlife crime crisis, the exploitation of our natural heritage by organised criminal syndicates, and the subversion of our communities – all fed by human greed and deep-rooted corruption. We demand that our voices be heard! We do not want to be the generation that tell our grandchildren that we did nothing about it, and we call upon global leaders to join us in bringing the illegal trade in wildlife to an end.”
Hunter Mitchell, 12, has been a rhino conservationist since he was just eight years old. He inspired delegates with personal stories of tragedy and hope, pointing to a 9,000% growth in rhino poaching in his lifetime. “We need to accept that extinction is forever and the power of change belongs to us, the next generation,” he told emotional delegates. “We have not caused this crisis. We have been born into it and I believe we can have bigger impact and be more powerful because when we talk, and when we act, we start to make adults feel guilty because they are the ones that have stolen rhino and other wildlife from our future.” After leaving the summit, Hunter returned to Cape Town to receive the prestigious Point of Light Award for outstanding individual volunteers from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Youth delegates from SA and 11 other African countries were joined by young Asian wildlife activists from India and Bangladesh, as well as Taiwan and Vietnam, which are destination countries for products from endangered species like rhino, lion, elephant and pangolin.
The summit had a huge impact on its young Asian delegates, who said they will return home to campaign against the illegal wildlife trade and consumption of poached animal products in their countries. Reducing consumption of wildlife products in Vietnam requires scientific evidence to show they don’t work, he said. “If many people start to reject wildlife products it can make a social impact. After attending the World Youth Wildlife Summit I want to become an ambassador, to share my experience of what I learnt, and when I go back to Vietnam I want to set up my own education and wildlife projects. I want to change behaviours of Vietnamese people,” Son Tra said. “Together we can build the world in a better way. I need to say to Vietnamese people that we can change to better modern products which don’t harm wildlife. We will stop the wildlife consumption in Vietnam. That’s my promise.”
Eva Tsai, 18, is from Taiwan and said her heart sank when she discovered the negative impact of the use of animal products in Taiwan. “I feel obliged to reach out and let people know about the illegal wildlife trade around the world, especially in Asia and my country.”
Committed young conservationists all left their painted handprints on a model rhino. Pictured are Jamie Lane and Lindiwe Swartbooi from ST Dominic’s Priory School in Port Elizabeth.
Young delegates witnessed demonstrations by the Black Mambas all-woman anti-poaching team. Wildlife crime is the fourth most lucrative form of organised crime globally and one of the biggest security challenges facing southern Africa. It is a multi-billion-dollar illicit business that is destroying Africa’s iconic animal populations, and undermining the economic prosperity and sustainable development of countries and communities. The annual cost of illicit wildlife trafficking is between $5 billion and $23 billion globally, according to a report by Global Financial Integrity, but measuring the real scale of wildlife crime is difficult because of its covert nature. Perpetrators vary from loosely knit groups to highly structured transnational syndicates using technology and heavy weapons to rob the continent of its natural resources.
Youth conservationists marched in silence to pay tributes to rangers who have died protecting wildlife in South Africa’s national parks. Pictures: Jonathon Rees