Q&A: The billionaire businessman fighting against the illegal wildlife trade

·5-min read
<p>Harald Link speaking with a ranger</p> (Harald Link)

Harald Link speaking with a ranger

(Harald Link)

In an interview with the Evening Standard, Dr Harald Link speaks about his career helping conservation charities tackle the illegal wildlife trade, investing in our charity partner’s co-led campaign and the time his horses were almost killed by a disease derived from trafficked zebras.

For those who aren’t familiar with Dr Link, he is one of Asia’s leading businessmen, worth over $3 billion.

His company, “B.Grimm” is involved in clean energy, building and industrial systems, healthcare, transportation, lifestyle, digital technology, and real estate across Southeast Asia.

According to their website, B.Grimm is one of Thailand’s oldest businesses institutions, carrying a 143-year old tradition of “Doing Business with Compassion.”

An unusual corporate chief, Link prefers talking about nature, tigers, and the wildlife trade more than supply chains, profits and losses.

Last year, when the coronavirus pandemic first hit the world, plunging different nations into a series of lockdowns, Dr Link worked with Bangkok-based conservation charity, Freeland, to raise awareness on their co-led campaign “EndPandemics” by sponsoring its media coverage.

Dr Link and B.Grimm are backing that global campaign that takes aim at the root causes of zoonotic outbreaks by protecting and regenerating nature as well as implementing sustainable solutions.

Here he speaks with the Standard in a mini Q&A series

Abbianca: Your company sponsored the EndPandemics campaign spots on CNN, which have had such a wide reach – can you tell me a bit more about that?

Harald: We tried to raise awareness with our CNN campaign, which focused on the link between the virus and the illegal wildlife trade, and this was shown worldwide. I’m sure it will have had some effect on those who watched it as it honed in on the key issues.

But I’m still surprised that the whole press all over the world don’t show this connection between Covid-19 and wildlife trade. If you open the papers in Thailand, I think everywhere they talk about vaccines but that’s not the point. I mean, vaccines are kind of the end of the story so that you don’t get infected too badly. But you have to go to the source of the issue and that is the wildlife trade.

And of course, you can say that it could have come from a laboratory but if you look at most of these pandemics, they definitely did not come from a laboratory. So even if one or the other did arise from it - the others didn’t for sure.

So let’s stop that wildlife trade – simple.

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Abbianca: The ES and the Independent have been working hard alongside our charity partner, Freeland, to expose what is happening with the poaching, smuggling and consuming of wildlife and its links to Covid-19 - what are your thoughts on our coverage?

Harald: It would be wonderful if more of the media would do that. The media are in the best position to do it because people still do believe most of them, and what is written in the media.

You can reach so many more people and if the media doesn’t pick it up, I think the politicians will not. So if the politicians don’t talk about it and the media doesn’t do it, we will definitely have endless more pandemics.

Abbianca: I know you’ve long supported initiatives focused on tackling the illegal wildlife trade but how did you get involved with Freeland?

Harald: Well, the World Wildlife Fund [WWF] has been supporting the tiger protection in Thailand for a while now, and they asked whether we [B.Grimm] could help [them] because there’s no company in Thailand that supports the tiger protection.

As you can see, Thailand is one of the very few countries where there are still enough tigers left. In Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, there are no tigers left, and in Myanmar, very few.

We had been strongly working with the Ministry and WWF and somehow I was introduced to Steven Galster [founder of Freeland] through Mrs Nunthinee Tanner, and then we started cooperating and working together.

Abbianca: More than 500 horses have died since the outbreak of the African Horse Sickness appeared in late February in Thailand. The illness, spread by biting midges, hadn’t broken out in Asia in more than 50 years.

The disease has devastated horse owners in Thailand and I guess in some way it sent another signal to the global health community about the potential dangers of the wildlife trade but were any of your horses affected?

Harald: Fortunately, our horses are fine. But this was just by luck because the outbreak started in the northeast, but some of our very close friends had many of their horses die from that.

Once we heard of it our company bought over 30 kilometres of protecting nets, so that we can give it to those people who actually cannot afford to buy these.

The Department of Livestock Development also imposed lockdown measures to prevent transportation of horses, strengthened blood-sucking insect exposure guidelines to minimise the contagion, as well as procured the AHS vaccine to intercept the spread. It was traumatic.

Abbianca: But do you think there is any chance that the leadership of Thailand might consider this trade as a possible source for a new pandemic and do something about it?

Harald: Actually, I did present a letter to the Prime Minister last year and asked him whether he planned to stop the wildlife trade and he did answer -- he said he forwarded this matter to the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources. So, I went to see the Minister and we talked about that.

He reassured us that under his leadership the trade would be stopped. Of course, it’s not only the political will, or the will of the Minister that’s important but it’s needed across all the other officials involved.

But I’m very confident that we are on the right track. How effective it will be - I think that time will tell.

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