Bo Derek, Branson unite to save Canada's polar bears
Published Wednesday, March 7, 2012 10:24AM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 7:40AM EDT
Beauty Bo Derek and billionaire Richard Branson have joined forces to save Canada's polar bear population from extinction. But the job won't get done unless individuals harness their power to bring about change, according to actress Derek.
That is the message that Derek, 55, and Branson, 61, brought to Toronto on Tuesday, during a press conference on behalf of the Canadian chapter of WildAid.
The international conservation organization is calling for the increased protection of polar bears in Canada. It is also urging governments to push forward bans on shark fin soup.
That cause and the chance to use her star power to make a difference "made sense to me," Derek said on Wednesday on CTV's Canada AM.
"Right now there's such a debate on climate change -- who is responsible, the science of it. There's a lot of work to be done and I realize that. But in the meantime we must save polar bears and sharks," Derek said.
Derek first turned her attentions to WildAid and its work on animal advocacy 10 years ago during a visit to the Galapagos Islands.
"I was in the most pristine place in the world, only to find out that poaching was rampant and out of control," said Derek.
"It was very discouraging. I had this sense of hopelessness. If we can't protect this place then what hope is there?" she asked.
Shortly after that trip, Derek met WildAid founding member Peter Knights. Through him, Derek learned about the organization's commitment to reduce the demand of animal products in consumer goods.
Derek also learned of WildAid's unusual approach to reach consumers.
In Asia, for example, WildAid used ad campaigns that featured celebrities such as Jackie Chan and retired basketball player Yao Ming. But instead of using their star power to sell products, WildAid enlisted these figures to try convincing consumers not to buy certain products such as shark fin soup.
Today, fins from up to 73 million sharks are used each year for this delicacy. That popularity has resulted in the collapse of many shark populations around the world.
Today's illegal wildlife trade is also estimated to be worth between US$5 and $10 billion per year.
These grim stats, plus the need to legislate to protect Canada's polar bears, topped the agenda for Derek and Virgin Group chairman Branson during Tuesday's press conference at Hart House at the University of Toronto.
Approximately two-thirds of the world's polar bears live in Canada and are divided into 13 subpopulations.
The animals have been disappearing at a rate of 10 per cent per decade since 1979, according to satellite images. The lost of Arctic ice is the main threat to Canada's southernmost populations of polar bears.
To safeguard these animals, WildAid has led the way in the development of a polar bear protection act for Ontario. The act will be tabled at Queen's Park as a private member's bill in the spring of 2012.
Branson and Derek expressed his support for the bill at Tuesday's press conference. Branson also called on Ontarians to do their part.
"Polar bears are dwindling and there's the threat of extinction," said Derek.
"It's really encouraging that some of the legislation here in Canada is definitely going in the right direction. But the power of the individual is still so effective," she said.
"Go online. WildAid will tell you how to reach your lawmakers. Your voice will be heard."