In a period of diminishing global biodiversity, the British royal family takes a powerful stance against the illegal wildlife trade through continual measures to protect worldwide ecosystems.
In early 1840, Queen Victoria became the first royal patron of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA); the world’s first animal welfare charity to be established. As of the present day, 176 years have elapsed since this alliance was sealed, and this patronage continues down the royal bloodline, joining the multitude of ties the royal family acknowledge to wildlife welfare and protection.
Yet the issue of declining biodiversity is often underestimated in the current age. To provide some scale, in 2014 the Living Planet Report calculated a 52% decline in the Living Planet Index (LPI) between 1970 and 2010; in other words, in only 40 years, half of the world’s vertebrate species - in the populations studied - have been lost. The index, published by WWF in association with the London Institute of Zoology, provides a measure of the populations of vertebrate species from over 10,000 representative communities across the world, with the largest declines across South America, and an alarming decline of over 18% in protected land-based regions.
Her Majesty is not the only royal to invest in the protection of the planet. The Prince of Wales, for example, is not only a proud patron to many organisations, he is also a strong advocate and campaigner against the illegal wildlife trade. Speaking out in his Unite for Wildlife video message alongside the Duke of Cambridge (Prince William), the Prince declared it: “a trade that has reached such unprecedented levels of killing and related violence that it now poses a grave threat not only to the survival of some of the world's most treasured species, but also to economic and political stability in many areas around the world.” The video, released on 13th November 2013, highlighted the devastating consequences of a continuing global trade in endangered species and urged public awareness of the organisational measures to prevent it.
Following in the footsteps of his father and forefathers, the Duke of Cambridge has also become a powerful adversary of illegal hunting of endangered species. In 2005, the young heir became a royal patron to the African wildlife protection organisation, Tusk Trust, raising awareness for the protection of animals that are commonly hunted for their tusks, through education and sustainable development of surrounding communities. Among these include the species the Diceros bicornis (Black Rhinoceros) and the Tragelaphus eurycerus (Mountain Bongo); both species listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.
In the previously mentioned 2013 video, the Prince of Wales concluded by saying: “We have come together, as father and son, to lend our voices to the growing global effort to combat the illegal wildlife trade” .
Furthermore, a study entitled, Life History Predicts Risk of Species Decline in a Stochastic World, published by the Royal Society in 2012, concluded that large mammals, such as those protected by the charity, have always tended to much higher extinction rates than many other clades as a result of biological predisposition, such as the disproportionately high importance of long-lived reproductive adults when compared to other species. The study calculated that large mammals average a relatively low evenness of elasticity - a measure of species diversity - and so are comparably more likely to be affected by abiotic pressures, such as habitat destruction. This would confirm that conservation efforts to protect these species are likely to be more effective and should be of high priority for current wildlife organisations, and the work of charities, like Tusk Trust, are essential in the fight against species decline.
But what does it actually mean to have a royal patron? Many charitable organisations argue that there are unprecedented benefits to inviting a royal family member to patronage, aside from the element of show. Many of these charities are able to reach different demographics to those with celebrity patrons, and such organisations argue that raising awareness and attracting donors from a more extensive age range is pivotal for their campaigns.
As our footprint on the planet continues to grow, resulting from ever-changing land use and the spread of unsustainable anthropogenic cultures, we commend the voice of the royal family on their efforts to promote species welfare and protection for future generations.
Original illustration by Isabel Hurst.