Africa’s highest mountain has become a beacon for climate change because the famous snows of Kilimanjaro are melting. I’m climbing Kili@60 with a team from the PATT Foundation to raise awareness of climate change and raise funds for wildlife charities – and these two critical causes are connected.
The Born Free Foundation is a dynamic wildlife charity that developed the concept of ‘compassionate conservation’ – respecting individual animals whilst working to protect species in their natural habitat where they belong. Founded in 1964 by Bill Travers, Virginia McKenna and their son Will Travers, Born Free celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. That’s 30 years of saving lives, stopping suffering, rescuing individuals and protecting species. I have been working closely with Born Free since 1986, as a consultant on apes, elephants, wildlife trade and human-wildlife conflict resolution. Together we launched the ELEFRIENDS campaign that helped ban the ivory trade in 1989, helped the Sri Lankan government return orphan elephants to the wild, worked with the UN to create the UN Great Apes Survival Partnership, provided support for primate conservation around the world and started a polar bear project in Canada. If you share Born Free’s vision for a better world, get involved at www.bornfree.org.uk, and I hope that by following my Kilimanjaro climb you will be moved to support our work.
What is the link to climate change? Forest ecosystems comprise a dynamic interaction between animals, plants, fungi and micro-organisms and of course a globally important carbon sink, without which we could never avert dangerous climate change. The Born Free Foundation, a member of the Forest Stewardship Council, is therefore working to protect, conserve and effectively manage the world’s forests to maintain biodiversity and counter climate change. By helping local people and wildlife departments protect primates, elephants, big cats and other keystone species, Born Free helps maintain healthy ecosystems all over the world. Elephants are particularly important keystone species in tropical forests and savannahs in 50 countries across Africa and Asia. Sometimes called the ‘Mega-Gardeners of the Forest’, they feed on grasses, leaves, branches, flowers, roots and – most importantly - fruits, and in doing so they prune the plants, create light-gaps by breaking branches, act as seed dispersal agents and fertilise the soil with their droppings (each adult elephant produces about a tonne of manure per week!). Most tropical tree species depend on animals to disperse their seeds, and each huge, towering, centuries-old rainforest tree or savannah baobab we see today is the result of an ecological event hundreds of years ago when, say, an elephant ate a fruit, swallowed the seed and the next day deposited it in nutrient-rich dung far from the parent plant. If we want tropical forests and woodlands to continue storing carbon, generating rainfall and stabilising our climate for centuries to come, we MUST protect the primates, elephants and other animals today. By supporting Born Free, you are helping to change the way people perceive wild animals – respecting them for their intelligence and understanding their role in the ecosystems which sustain us all.