ENVIRONMENT Minister Rory Stewart today condemned the “barbaric” slaughter of Cecil the lion and pledged to help protect the world's most endangered species.
“The particular lion issue I am keen for the British Government to focus on at the moment is the Asiatic lion, which is a distinct species of lion, and which is now found only in Gujarat and if it were to be lost, and we are now down to a few hundred, would be a real tragedy.”
On the question of African lions, Mr Stewart said Britain is working two ways: on a political front and also protecting habitat. Ministers, for instance, have been in touch with counterparts in Zimbabwe as well as the EU after the killing of Cecil by an American hunter looking for the ultimate big game trophy.
I think this barbaric action with Cecil has really focused the attention on lions
Mr Stewart praised express.co.uk for campaigning for greater lion protection by highlighting the animals’ links with so much British symbolism.
The new Defra minister said: “The Express’s campaign to make us understand that one thing to do is focus on a particular animal, particularly an animal as iconic as the lion which has this extraordinary symbolism and resonance in our history, can be a good way to proceed.
“If you look at the environmental movement going back to the 1950s, a lot of the great successes have come about by focusing on charismatic or iconic species, the World Wildlife Fund with the giant panda, has done an enormous amount to raise awareness."
Much of the £5million pledged to the second round of the Government’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund will filter down to the local communities and law enforcement agencies protecting these precious habitats.
Among the 19 projects that benefited in the first round of funding was helping Mozambique villagers in an area where both black and white rhinos are poached.
Funding also went to helping protect snow leopards in the Kyrgyz Republic, protecting ploughshare tortoises in Madagascar and designing a “gold standard” wildlife protection technology in Kenya.
“I would like to see the UK Government frame this conversation, or make people think about protecting the environment in which they operate.
“I would like to engage British citizens, British volunteers. The organisation that tagged Cecil the Lion is working with volunteers to map climate change species in a wood in Oxfordshire. I would like to see connection between Cecil, the issues of the lions with what we can do in Britain.”