Anti-rhino-poaching rant

Stories in the media about the plague of poachers who are slaughtering our wildlife – especially our rhinos, elephants and lions – make my blood boil.

Rhinos at dusk

Rhinos at dusk

Thousands of our beautiful, irreplaceable, unique rhinos, elephants and lions have been killed. Resources have been thrown at the problem for a couple of years, but it may be too little, too late. They’re even talking of capturing large numbers of rhino and relocating them to Australia to keep them safe.

Yes. Seriously.

Just have a look at these statistics collected by Save the Rhino: between 2000 and 2007, between 6 and 25 rhinos were slaughtered by poachers a year in our wildlife sanctuaries, conservation areas and national and transnational parks. Since 2008, these figures have gone through the roof – rising from 83 in 2008, to 1004 in 2013. So far in 2014, 868 rhinos have been poached.

These figures are staggering.

Poaching is Big Money. It’s not some impoverished starving individual living next to a nature reserve who decides to hunt a rhino to feed his family or his village. He would hunt a springbok or a kudu or a gemsbok, whose meat would taste far better. No. Poachers use automatic weapons, high-powered rifles, and powerful sedative drugs; they use aircraft, all-terrain vehicles, and high-tech equipment. They saw or hack off the horns, and leave the bloody carcasses to rot. The poaching industry is run by highly organised international crime syndicates. It’s not about the ‘alleged medical benefits’ of consuming rhino horn, which are, to put it bluntly, bullshit. It’s about money.

Rhino mom and little one having a drink at a waterhole

Rhino mom and little one having a drink at a waterhole

The Southern White Rhino was almost extinct, though thankfully population figures recovered; however, its status is still ‘near threatened’. The Black Rhino is described as ‘critically endangered’, with only about 5000 individuals still alive. With the death of Suni, one of only two breeding males left in the world, there are now only only a handful (6!) of Northern white rhino left (National Geographic).

Unless appropriate resources are devoted in an international and coordinated effort to protect our wildlife, within the next few years, or perhaps – if we are lucky – only within a decade or two, the last remaining survivors of (South) Africa’s once proud populations of rhinos will be gone, their gene pool decimated. Wiped out. As though they were never here.

It is entirely possible that our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will grow up never seeing rhinos or elephants or lions in their natural environment. Can you imagine how desperately sad that would be?

Except, perhaps, in Botswana, where the steps taken by President Ian Khama to conserve wildlife and encourage nature tourism rather than hunting have caused numbers of elephants to increase once more. Frequent patrols by the well-armed and well-trained Botswana Defence Force, and the buy-in of the local population, have been an essential part of his approach. These good news stories are far too few.

I wonder whether we’ll get it right in South Africa, before it’s too late.

 

10 thoughts on “Anti-rhino-poaching rant

  1. Totally with you on this, Reggie, as I’m sure are all right-minded people. But I fear that as long as there is market for the end product, with people prepared to pay absurd prices for those absurd ‘health benefits’, attempts to ban poaching will be no more effective than the ‘war on drugs’.

    I’d be happy to see rhinos shipped over to Australia if it would help save the species. They don’t breed like rabbits, do they? Or cane toads?

    • No need to worry, Richard – rhinos aren’t going to invade Australia the way that rabbits and cane toads did. I think the gestation period for white and black rhinos is somewhere around 15 to 18 months, which is a seriously long time.

      And those ‘health benefits’ – rhino horn is made up of essentially the same stuff that you find in nails and hair. Why does anyone really want to ingest that? It’s idiotic. We should chew our own flipping fingernails instead, for all the good it does. There are no health benefits from ingesting ground up rhino horn.

      In recent years, apparently, the horns of live animals are sometimes injected with a mixture of a pink dye (which remains visible even when the horn is ground up) and an acaricide (which kills kill ticks). It’s safe for rhinos but toxic to humans. But the process of infusing the mixture into the horns isn’t straightforward, as the rhino have to be caught and anaesthetised, which has its own risks.

    • Yes, I hope so too, Joy. Showing absolutely no mercy for poachers and the syndicates behind them would be a good start.

      It’s unacceptable that, on the rare occasions when the poachers and their bosses are caught and they are processed through the criminal justice system, that they are given far too low sentences, or worse, get free on a technicality or because evidence gets lost or misplaced.

      In a recent case, a rhino horn smuggler – a Thai national – was originally given a really heavy sentence of 40 years’ imprisonment, but this was recently reduced to 13 (!), because it was supposedly out of proportion to other crimes (http://www.savetherhino.org/latest_news/news/1115_rhino_horn_smuggler_receives_reduced_jail_sentence).

      If the legal system isn’t imposing harsh sentences, what other deterrents are there?

  2. I really don’t think we will stop in time … we are very stupid. We fail to see how our actions big and small and daily choices we make, harm our Mother Earth. I suspect we are in for a big SPANKING in the future.

    • I hear you, Sybil.

      I think it starts with the small, daily things we can do to help Mother Nature: creating beautiful nature spaces, protecting endangered species, planting things that attract birds and insects, buying local produce in season, rather than things that are imported from the far side of the globe, supporting local traders, crafters and farmers, participating in recycling initiatives, learning how things actually grow in nature, and teaching our kids about kindness and compassion towards the natural world.

      There is only one planet. We cannot afford to f*** it up.

  3. Hi Reggie – yes I understand and share your frustration especially when you hear of a “save the rhino” fund raising event and then learn that only R10 out of every R200 goes towards the anti poaching campaign. The rhino they have at Buffelsfontein have their horn removed. This has to be done every few years as it grows back. This is not ideal for the Rhino, the game park or the tourists – but I am happy to sacrifice seeing a rhino with its horn, if it makes it safe from poachers!

    • Hi Glynnis – that is just blatant corruption. Thumbs down. 😦 Seeing de-horned rhino is just so wrong though, isn’t it? I know, it’s more likely to keep them safe, but… geez… We’re really messing around with Mother Nature in so many ways. What happened to living sustainably and in harmony with our natural environment? Yeah, I realise, I’m being naive and idealistic… :-\

  4. This topic just makes me so sad.

    Agree with what you have said, and also Richard’s comment – if there’s a market rhino poaching won’t stop. And with large lengths of border unprotected it makes it easier to get stuff out of the country. When we were in the Kgalagadi in August, SA Police were searching each vehicle going into the park – especially for perlemoen. As it’s a transfrontier park, it was being used by poachers to get their goods out of SA.

    • I’m so glad to hear the police and the military are becoming more active in protecting our national and transfrontier parks.

      I really hope they get all the resources they need to do a good job, as our borders must be among the toughest areas to patrol – wild, isolated, long distances between ‘places’, lots of places for the bad guys to hide or lay low, never mind the risks of being bitten by spiders, scorpions, snakes, the rough terrain, prevalence of malaria in some areas… And then having to face poachers who are equipped with high tech gear and powerful weaponry, and not hesitating for a second to use it. One can’t help admiring the soldiers who brave such hardships.

      There’s an interesting article about the so-called “Operation Corona” (border protection) in the Winter 2013 issue of the Reserve Force Volunteer – pages 52-54 (http://www.rfdiv.mil.za/pdfs/publications/rfv/Winter%202013%20.pdf).

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