As she launches Remembering Lions, the fourth in a series of books to raise funds for conservation, Margot Raggett talks to Graeme Green about perseverance, poaching and the future of our wildlife
Remembering Lions follows Elephants, Rhinos and Great Apes. This project has really taken over your life.
That’s an understatement. In 2010 when I sold my shares in a PR agency in London I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I loved going on safari and wildlife photography so I thought I’d see where that led me. When I saw poached elephants in northern Kenya, I thought I could put a book together. I had no idea I would do anything other than that first book, an exhibition and maybe raise a bit of money. But as we launched Elephants, it became clear we had the potential to go on. We’ve already raised £460,000, without any money from the Lions book, so it’s only going to get bigger.
Many people care about wildlife but few take on such a big commitment. What sets you apart?
It’s a culmination of all my life experiences. Twenty years of working in marketing for brands like Coca-Cola, Boots and Unilever, running big projects, gave me the perfect experience to do something ambitious. When I take something on, I want to do a good job.
What characteristics do you need to make a project like this successful?
You need long-term vision. It took 18 months to do the first book. I didn’t rush it or try to cobble something together. You need perseverance. There are days when you feel enough is enough, but you have to carry on. And you need a bit of resilience. It’s not without challenges. People sometimes want to criticise when something is going well.
How do you select which causes the money goes to?
This year I’m not working with Born Free Foundation, as I did for the first three books. I have a number of photographers who’ve worked in the field and are ambassadors for some great initiatives. I visit projects in Africa and I talk to people I admire. For this book, we have Jonathan and Angela Scott who’ve both worked in big cat conservation for decades. It’s a combination of a lot of pooled wisdom.
What impact have you seen the money having?
We supported Bushlife Conservancy in Mana Pools in Zimbabwe, who run anti-poaching patrols. The year before, around 10 elephants had been lost. The year, with our funding, they had no poaching incidents. But it isn’t always easy to see tangible results. I had a naive idea when I first came into this with the Elephants book that you buy some guns for rangers and it’s job done. Now, it’s about supporting a local school and educating children so they don’t grow up to be poachers, that kind of long-term strategy.
Is the wildlife conservation battle being won?
I don’t think we’ll ever be able to say we’ve won, but one thing I’m particularly encouraged by is the growing interest in conservation from the general public. In conservation you can’t give up. When we do see wins, we have to take encouragement and energy from those.
How important is tourism to wildlife conservation?
Tourism’s important. So is photography. There are huge areas where if you didn’t have tourists going there, generating funds, that land would be taken over for other uses. The more people who go on photographic safaris, the better.
How do you think wildlife conservation in Africa will change in the next 20 years?
Technology is getting better all the time. I’ve seen Artificial Intelligence being used to differentiate between poachers and wildlife wandering through an area. Technology can help, but it needs philanthropic development from wealthy companies. There has to be the corporate will to develop technologies to help save wildlife. Expecting tourism to be enough to protect wildlife is not enough. There needs to be serious investment and a focus on protecting wildlife and making sure there is space for it to thrive.