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Celebrity Conservationists

Sharon Kwok and the Pangolin

    Why should people back stopping the illegal trade in wildlife around the globe, or protecting Rhinos or Pangolins on the verge of extinction? Because Kate Hudson or Angelababy, however well-intentioned, give it their blessing, or because these are crying injustices that scar our world and degrade our own humanity?

    Every wildlife charity – however big or small – needs to have a clear and convincing message about what it's trying to achieve. But the support of an impassioned celebrity for that cause can help reach new audiences with their message, plus they can rally support and actively lobby for change.

    In this case a celebrity gave more than just a name, but also spent time, hard work, and their own money to get a result.

    Film actress turned conservationist Sharon Kwok, who runs her own NGO, Aqua Meridian describes her role as “educating to help and protect biodiversity”. She saw first hand the tragedy of these gentle, shy scaly mammals when a friend invited her to a large seizure of smuggled Pangolins in Indonesia, and realised these “gentle creatures” were being wiped out though illegal trade.

sharon kwok, chameleon, hong kong tatler, magazine cover
sharon kwok, pangolin, paul hilton, celerity activist
pangolin, pangolin baby, paul hilton, enangered animal
sharo kwok, pangolin costume, school kids, celebrity conservationist
CITES conference, sharon kwok, pangolin toy

 The Pangolin Pit

Paul Hilton has done tremendous work in covering animals and their plight. This image won him the prestigious BBC Wildlife Photographer of the year in 2016, in the Journalism category.He was with Sharon in Medan Indonesia when they found the horror of over 4,000 defrosting pangolins, along with 77kg of scales,and 97 live pangolins in crates. ‘Wildlife crime is big business,’ says Paul. ‘It will stop only when the demand stops.’

Below: The compelling, masterful, and moving image that won top award for Paul at the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the year.

All pictures by Paul Hilton (as credited) or Sharon Kwok.

“Pangolins are literally being eaten to extinction,” says Jonathan Baillie, co-chair of the IUCN’s Pangolin Specialist Group, but as a pangolin activist points out “one of the main issues is that so many people don’t know what a pangolin is…the more Sharon talks about pangolins publicly, the more people will become aware”.

 Sharon began using her celebrity status as a popular actress to help get the word out about this animal in the press, giving interviews and writing articles, working with other NGO partners, co-organising events like the high profile “elephant walks”, giving talks in schools and lobbying the Hong Kong government.

    The Pangolin has the dubious claim to fame of being the most trafficked animal in the world, with Hong Kong acting as a transshipment hub for many of the estimated 100,000 of these creatures killed every year.  We are losing these wonderful creatures due to “bad cultural habits”, as its scales, tongue, skin, and foetus are all believed to have benefits and unproven beneficial properties in traditional medicine. Even though the pangolin's brown scales are made of nothing more than keratin -- the same substance as fingernails - it’s scales can now fetch up to US$3,500 per kilo, allegedly helping women lactate, and curing health ailments ranging from cancer to asthma. The meat is also prized at VIP dinners, where animals are killed in front of diners, and the blood poured into their wine.

Victory at CITES conference banning trade.
In late 2016 Sharon joined a delegation lobbying at CITES (The UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) which remains one of the world's most powerful tools for biodiversity conservation through the regulation of trade in wild fauna and flora. Sharon - using all her skills from her fine-arts background - designed, created and subsidised the large mascot and small plush toy give-away Pangolins that raised awareness and Pangolin popularity - seen left and below. With only China and Indonesia voting against, and the team lobbing tirelessly to the smaller Countries to vote, the motion was carried, and all Pangolins are now listed on CITES I. Sharon concludes “A real victory, as now any and all trade in Pangolins is banned”.

Victory at CITES conference banning trade with a small celebration with some of the other delegates, mascots, and plush toys that generated interest and perhaps helped sway the debate.

pangolin pit, illegal wildlife trade, pangolins, paul hilton
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