Written in May 2016
Veering off slightly from elephants to discuss another of nature’s beautiful but threatened species. The Southern White Rhino!
363 rhinos were poached in Jan- March of 2016!
I have been volunteering at this small family run reserve in South Africa for just over a month now, the place steams with positive energy and is run by the most passionate beings I’ve ever met, ever. Last month (April 22nd) was Earth Day, a day to appreciate and raise awareness for the environment and its nature. BUT it was not a day to celebrate…. A meeting was held in March last year; Lynne, the reserve owner gave her personal presentation (describing her emotional story of poacher attacks) about why the trade in rhino horn should be lifted.
Following this the South African government announced that the rhino crisis will not be mentioned at the CITES meeting of 2016. Practically saying there is no crisis? The ban will not be lifted which means the Southern White Rhino will be extinct in less than 30 years.
The South African Government have sentenced these rhinos to death, thus extinction. It’s very difficult to make judgement on something until you experience it yourself, for me this is a clear example! I used to celebrate when countries burnt their stockpiles but during my short time of being here I can’t even begin to compare how different my views have become. When I walked out of a talk given by Lynne’s knowledgeable farther on wildlife management I went in being one woman and came out another.
When you are here experiencing life in the bush with people who have dedicated their whole heart, soul and life into protecting their rhinos the news to hear that the ban won’t be lifted is harrowing. These rhinos have died for no reason, their horn locked up in protected vaults, rotting away. UK organisations back home are educating people to ‘save the rhino from extinction’ but do they actually know what measures are needed to protect them?
This reserve unwillingly de-horn their rhinos… Because they of all people know that this is their only option. Less than 2% of rhinos die in de-horning and sadly it is a decision many reserve owners in South Africa are forced to make. De-horn or death? The light at the end of this tunnel was the thought of being able to legalise the rhino horn trade, in a controlled manner; it happened in history, horn price declined, as did poaching. Yet we continue to follow history that has failed, we continue to ignore the fact that as we keep the ban, the price of horn increases while rhino populations decrease (even more so drastically after this announcement).
South African reserve owners are now facing a stronger battle. South Africans should make the decision on THEIR rhino, the only remaining Southern White Rhino’s. 11/12 bordering countries backed South Africa’s decision to lift the ban. 85% or the people who attended the rhino meeting last March were pro-lifting the ban. Lynne is an inspirational women and last month I felt her heart break at the news to keep the ban. She has dedicated her life to protecting rhinos and even though she has been trod on, she continues to stand strong and I admire her. Lynne has come back now fighting harder than ever, and we need people like you to help raise awareness of the rhino crisis in South Africa!
People tend to put rhinos and elephants under the same category when truly the issues cannot be more opposite. It’s proven by reserves like this that rhinos can live on healthy after de-horning, rhinos cannot survive in this world with their horns left on their face, fact. However, ivory is taken from the skull which means elephants do have to be slaughtered and hacked to take the tusks. So here we have two separate issues and one can be solved, it’s not the ideal solution in any means, but if the sale of rhino horn was legalised AND controlled with history proving success the price of horn will drop, as will the poaching activity.
With the money earnt from the sale of horn, reserves would be able to employ more people for anti-poaching units. To me now, this option could not seem more clear.
In regards to elephants, it truly is a tough one, but I feel that burning stock piles of ivory is perhaps not the right thing to do; of course this is my opinion and with inspiring conservationists and organisations backing the burns it proves the subject is highly controversial; these poor animals slaughtered for nothing, is there not a better way?
Surely if the sale of ivory was also legalised and forcefully controlled; reserves, farm and park owners would be able to better protect their elephants and abundance of other species. It has proven that poaching demands will decline, preventing a negative impact on the elephant population.
If reserve owners like Lynne’s were able to sell even one horn from their healthy rhinos she would be able to buy more rhino and recruit more staff and security, which in turn would better protect their rhinos thus in turn increasing the population and mitigating the rhino crisis. Lifting the ban and allowing a controlled sale of rhino horn (from de-horned healthy rhino’s) was their last chance to save the species from extinction.
Here at the reserve most of the income goes straight to the anti-poaching team who are out in the bush all night protecting their rhino’s from poachers, it’s a highly skilled but dangerous job, but without them there would be no rhinos left. I left England with the opinion that: rhino horn should be burnt and that legalising the trade of rhino horn barbaric. That opinion now could not be more different. I think it’s very hard to sit at home and have opinions on things going on in the world, ideally you need to live it breathe it and feel it, and then make judgement.
This situation is very political, the Government have technically voted for illegal trade, allowing this outrageous poaching activity to continue. Another point to make is that South Africa’s wildlife has increased in South Africa because of sustainable utilisation; this was a decision made by the people of South Africa. Countries like Kenya who illegalised hunting have lost an incredible amount of wildlife. The people of South Africa know what is right for their wildlife, the people who work in fields themselves, day in day out. Let them make the decision, for it is their decision to make.
“This was the future of conservation in Africa: twenty-four-hour guards risking their lives with outdated weapons against machine guns and helicopters to protect critically threatened wild creatures. It is the best that can be done with limited resources. But it has to be done, and it is costing conservationists a fortune, even though these guards put their lives on the line for salaries that many in the West would not get out of bed for.
But that cost was in cash. The true cost will be the soul of the planet if we do not succeed.”
– Quote by Lawrence Antony’s book – The Last Rhino