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