Opinion Former Comment - There have been a few early tests of the Coalition Government's approach to animal welfare and conservation issues. The first test came almost immediately after the election and it was one which the coalition passed well.
The International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Morocco last June saw concerted efforts to broker a 'compromise' deal that would have legitimised commercial whaling for the first time in decades. The Coalition Programme for Government contained the pledge to "oppose the resumption of commercial whaling" and the UK delegation, led at ministerial level by Richard Benyon, did an excellent job in leading European nations and other like-minded anti-whaling countries to block a bad deal for whales. With the next IWC annual meeting approaching fast in July, this time being held in Jersey, the UK once again has a key role to play in pushing the conservation agenda.
The Coalition Programme for Government contained the pledge to "tackle the smuggling and illegal trade in wildlife". The Government has demonstrated its commitment to tackling wildlife crime at home by the decision to fund the UK's National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) for a further two years. This is a very welcome decision. This small but highly specialised unit punches well above its weight, providing intelligence, support and coordination for tackling a whole range of wildlife crimes, and its successes are growing year upon year.
The tests for tackling wildlife crime abroad have yet to come. In August 2011 the Standing Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meets, and will discuss a range of issues concerning the trade in endangered species. Elephants and ivory trade will be included on that list and it is vital that the Government drives a strong EU position against further 'experimental' sales of stockpiled ivory if the Coalition is to live up to its pledge to "press for a ban on ivory sales". Since the last sales of stockpiled ivory in 2008, seizures of illegal ivory have skyrocketed. It is time these 'experiments' stopped and countries focused on getting support to embattled rangers and enforcement authorities on the ground in Africa and Asia to prevent further elephants and rangers dying for the ivory trade.
For IFAW, another 'elephant in the room' so to speak, is the free vote on whether or not to repeal the Hunting Act. There was much speculation that a vote might happen early in the new Parliament but with far more important issues on its mind the government decided against this, perhaps influenced by a growing body of new Conservative MPs who do not wish to see the cruelty of chasing and killing wild mammals with dogs reintroduced into the countryside. Nonetheless, the pro-hunting community may expect to be rewarded for the effort they invested in helping getting candidates elected, so this issue has by no means gone away. If and when, this issue comes before the House, IFAW will be ready to demonstrate once again the cruelty of hunting with dogs and why it should remain banned.
In summary, there have been some early tests, which the coalition has passed well, and some areas, such as the decision to encourage a badger cull, or the delay in implementing a ban on wild animals in circuses, which although not priority areas of work for IFAW campaigns, we would hope for more. And as outlined above, there remain some major challenges ahead both domestically and internationally.
For more information on IFAW's work and campaigns visit www.ifaw.org.
Matthew Collis, Senior Parliamentary OfficerMore Articles by International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) ...