Meet the people fighting wildlife crime and helping animals in need through rescue, rehabilitation and research
Lonesome George was thought to be over 100 years old. The giant tortoise subspecies (Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni) was known as an ‘endling’ – the last known individual of a species. He lived his life on the small island of Pinta, one of the Galápagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador, but his species was hunted to the point of extinction.
After scientists first discovered him, they had hoped they would find another. Instead, they soon learned that the vegetation that George once feasted upon was now being destroyed by hoards of feral goats that had been released there by humans who wanted something to hunt. But there was no sign of another tortoise like George. With no offspring, when he died in 2012 the species became extinct.
Lonesome George’s story is heartbreaking, but it is not unique. The last decade has seen the extinction of so many creatures: the Japanese river otter, Malagasy hippopotamus, eastern cougar, Christmas Island pipistrelle. Other species are hurtling towards a similar fate, teetering on the brink of extinction, like the Ili pika, Darwin’s fox and the Bornean orangutan.
From climate change, toxic pollutants and natural disasters to mass deforestation, illegal trapping, and poaching, these species are suffering at the hands of humans. While desperate attempts are being made to keep these animals in captivity with the hopes of reintroducing populations into the wild, it is seemingly too little too late. The real answers to saving the planet’s wildlife is preventing a species from declining to such dangerously low numbers through education and research, focusing on fighting wildlife crime like illegal poaching for the trade of exotic pets and heading out into the bush to save animals battling disease and life-threatening wounds.
One organisation that works tirelessly to preserve animals is the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust based in Malawi, a country home to about 192 mammal species, including the critically endangered south-central black rhino and the endangered African wild dog. Malawi is also southern Africa’s main transit hub for illicit wildlife products like elephant ivory, animals for sale in the illegal pet trade and bushmeat.
Their centre opened its doors in 2008 as Malawi’s only animal rescue and rehabilitation facility, and it is the only sanctuary in the world to have received all three accreditations from the Born Free PAW scheme, GFAS (Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries) and PASA (Pan African Sanctuary Alliance). Since then, Lilongwe Wildlife Trust has developed into a world-renowned and award-winning conservation organisation.
We meet some of the heroes behind these conservation efforts, who are working to protect and preserve the wildlife of Malawi and striving towards the goal of saving every wild animal in the country from suffering.
“The last decade has seen the extinction of many creatures. Others are teetering on the brink”