Saving Rhino – a horny dilemma

rhino

 

I’ve already told you about the amazing tea bag people I met on my trip to South Africa. The other tale I have to tell is less uplifting. It’s the opposite of uplifting (maybe downpulling?) and doesn’t have a terribly happy ending.

In Britain, our wildlife is pretty dull. I mean. There are some small wild horses dotted here and there and the odd antelope; foxes are pretty photogenic, and of course there’s badgers, who could probably fuck you up if you get too close.  Our only exposure to exciting animals is in Zoos, where the animals are relatively safe and easy to find. You follow the map to the Giraffe enclosure, and there they are.  This process is probably more exciting and full of mystery and suspense if, like me, you have the sense of direction of a paper aeroplane, but only marginally so.

*boop* // Sibuya, 2016

There’s no comparison to going on a Safari – one of the highlights of any trip to South Africa (especially when your mum works in the Tourist industry and knows all the best places and ways to get good deals.) At the larger parks there is no guarantee you will see anything – you can spend hours driving around acres of fynbos and jungle and see nothing but Impala (if you can do a safari without seeing Impala? That’s impressive.) On my first trip out there we went to Addo Elephant Park and spent 3 hours looking for even just one of their 350+ elephants and nearly ended up going home wondering whether it should be renamed Addo Warthog Park as we saw plenty of those. But when you round the bend and you’re suddenly faced with a herd of Elephant, or you catch two giraffes nose booping in the sunset, or a female lion taking a drink at a waterhole a few meters away from you? Well that’s a breath-taking moment that no camera could hope to truly capture.

Rhinos are an animal that doesn’t get a lot of love – they get passed over for the mighty elephants, graceful lions or quite frankly bizarre giraffe. (I do love giraffe but there’s no denying that in terms of evolution there is some weird shit going on there.)

But Rhinoceroseseses are amazing. Here are some things about Rhino that are amazing.

  • They have amazing soft little noses and make little snuffling noises when they eat
  • Baby rhino are one of the cutest wee little things ever
  • Rhinoceros are like real live triceratops and therefore practically dinosaurs
  • They have a horn and are magical and therefore basically fat unicorns
  • That means they are the only living animal which is both a dinosaur AND a unicorn
Rhino-ho-ho // Garden Route Game Lodge, Christmas Day 2012

Once you’ve seen a wild one on Safari, as I was lucky enough to do on Christmas Day 2012 (nothing says “Christmas” like seeing a baby Rhino at 6am in 30 degree heat) you realise how incredible they are. On that day, our guide at Garden Route Game Lodge told us about their security. They had a helicopter and a 24 hour security team, just to look after their two rhino because the risk of poaching is huge. I knew, intellectually, that Rhino were in trouble, and were diminishing in numbers, but when you have one right in front of you being told the facts it hits you like…well a rhino.

On my most recent trip we had two safari trips planned to private game parks – one to Oceana  in Port Alfred and one to Sibuya near Kenton on Sea.  Both have Rhino, but different approaches to security. Oceana, until recently, used to do horn removal. This is where under anaesthetic you remove the horn, in theory removing the temptation to poachers – they’re only after the horn. Horn removal isn’t permanent as the horn continues to grow at a rate of about 3” a year. While we were there, our guide told us they weren’t going to do this anymore, as it felt hopeless. They had had four Rhino, a family group of a male, female and their two children – an adolescent and a young one. Unfortunately a few months ago the mother of the group was killed and her horn sawn off, even though she only had a few inches of horn to steal. Fortunately the baby was old enough to remain with them, although the two younger ones were very confused, looking for and crying for their mother for some time.

Sibuya also had a rhino family, up until a week before our visit there. In fact, as my flight landed in Cape Town the awful news was already breaking – so brutal was the attack that it made headlines here in the UK too. Although Sibuya have a helicopter crew and an armed response unit operating 24 hours a day, poachers are well resourced, highly funded and they plan ahead. Sibuya suspect that poachers may have attended their lodge as paying guests and found out the routine of the animals before they struck – killing two adult females outright. Bingo, their male, quite famous for being playful and good humoured and liking to play with safari vehicles, was still conscious as they sawed off his horn. I am sorry if you find this distressing, but this is the reality of the threat to these beautiful creatures. Photos were posted on Sibuya’s Facebook – but be warned, these are graphic and upsetting.

rhino2
Bingo and his family in happier times – taken by my mum //Sibuya 2015

Bingo initially survived, but it appeared the overdose of tranquilisers and the trauma of the cutting took too much of a toll on him (information here – again, these pictures are upsetting) A few days later it became apparent he was going blind. He wandered away from his usual haunts, got stuck in a river and the staff had to make the heart-breaking call to put him to sleep. In the space of a week, they had lost almost their entire Rhino family – because the two orphaned babies were too young to survive alone, and they had to be sent away to be raised at a sanctuary.

When we arrived at Sibuya, the staff were visibly in mourning for their rhino family, and it was so terribly sad. One of our guides choked up with emotion as he told us what that terrible day was like for him. A young trained guide told me he couldn’t understand why more wasn’t being done around the world about this. “Doesn’t anyone care?” he asked. “Doesn’t anyone care that if we don’t stop this they’ll all be gone by 2020?”

My godson is six months old. When he’s 5 years old, and he’s playing with toy animals, the Rhino will be nothing more than a memory. By the time he’s 10, a world without these incredible creatures will be his normal. You can’t tell me that’s right.

My family and I laying stones at the burial site of Bingo and the rhino family. This is the same spot where my mum took the photo of Bingo and his ladies not a year before. // Sibuya 2016

Rhino are one of the most endangered species on the planet. In our lifetime, we are going to lose these incredible animals for no reason other than superstition. There’s nothing special about a rhino horn – it’s made of keratin. And yet a Rhino horn is worth more on the black market than gold or cocaine. According to our guides, a rhino horn is worth more than ten times what the live animal costs, should you buy one for a private park. Money talks, and the money says that a dead rhino is worth more than a live one.

What can be done? Our guide at Oceana was on the side of decriminalisation – allowing the legal trade of rhino horn to encourage breeding the animals. At the moment, breeding them is just too expensive for too little return. Many game parks are not holding rhino anymore because the security costs are just too high. The argument is that decriminalisation would drop the price of horn, increase supply and reduce the need for poaching. Our guide at Sibuya took a harder line on the poachers – wanting increased protection for game wardens who catch poachers in the act. At the moment, unless they actually kill an animal the charge is unlikely to be more than merely trespassing, and even then it can be hard to get a prosecution and the perpetrators are bailed within days (poaching is big business and the investors have deep pockets.) Many want legal protection for rangers that injure or kill poachers caught in the act  arguing that this would act as a deterrent to poachers. Others we spoke to wanted more systemic change;  with the governments that are complicit in allowing the illegal trade forced to do more to stamp out the trade completely and encouraged  to focus on education  to end the belief in the scientifically non-existent medicinal properties of rhino horn.

Within the last few hours today, news broke that South African courts have relaxed the ban on domestic trade of rhino horn – a highly controversial move which potentially has more to do with profit than protection; it remains to be seen whether this will help boost the breeding of Rhino to support the trade or merely compound the problem.

Just as the debates rage on elsewhere in the world over the pros and cons of decriminalisation or regulation of drugs and prostitution, the resolution to the Rhino horn dilemma seems a long way off – and there’s a high chance that the Rhino themselves may not survive that long.

But what can YOU do? Well, you can make sure you don’t inadvertently provide profit or support to any organisation that illegally trades in rhino horn. You can make sure you don’t support the use of rhino horn for medicinal purposes.  There are also lots of charities working to protect and save the rhino from extinction and you can support those.

Most of all, you can care.  You can raise awareness. Outside of the African continent the terrible problem of Rhino poaching is little known, unless the attack was particularly gruesome and cruel, in the case of Bingo, and that helps the poaching industry. The greater pressure piled on the governments and agencies that directly and indirectly support this cruel trade the better. Otherwise we’ll reach 2020 and find a world without any Rhinoceros, and we’ll wonder how we let it happen.

 

Further reading and links to some charities:

http://www.poachingfacts.com/faces-of-the-poachers/buyers-of-rhino-horn/

https://www.helpingrhinos.org

http://savingprivaterhino.org/

http://www.wwf.org.za/what_we_do/rhino_programme/

https://www.savetherhino.org

 

 

RDPP

2 comments

  1. Good article. A group that is really above board and doing great work is Outraged South African citizens against Poaching. Follow them and support them.

  2. Awesome Miss Emmeline May – keep doing what you are doing whether it be for young women or now for rhino your voice is being heard and good will follow.

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