The rhino dilemma is a human induced problem and demands that we seek an immediate solution. The dilemma unfortunately extends beyond the horror and brutality of the poaching, it goes deep into our hearts and psyches. We wrestle amongst ourselves, arguing about the ‘right’ way to save these iconic animals. The many different view points, many valid, many well-intentioned and many simply un-informed, have not been always been devoid of ego. But while we argue and debate amongst ourselves, the animals still die daily. “What are you waiting for?” if they could voice their hearts, they perhaps would say. I try to steer away from anthropomorphism, but I think most of us associate human emotions with other species from time to time. So, I ask, somewhat rhetorically, “what are we waiting for?”
I have many people attacking me, believing that their view, because perhaps different from mine, is a better view. I do not attack back nor do I defend myself, simply because I do not have one particular view. This is evidenced in the various chapters I have written on the matter. I do however make one strong statement, one I will absolutely defend…”My goal is to stop the rhino from being butchered to the point of extinction and that should be the goal of every well-intentioned person.” I am not here to debate ad nauseum if it is better to treat the horn with an ectoparasiticide, if it is better to de-horn the animals, if it is better to educate the Asian market, if it is better to get the army in on the fight, if it is better to have a standardised and controlled permitting policy or if it is better to stop permitted hunting. I am here to do whatever it takes to stop the animals from being destroyed.
As long as we carry on arguing amongst ourselves we will not reach a solution. We need to unite our efforts and put aside single-minded view points and have the courage and open-mindedness to see all view points…and perhaps see that there is more than one solution.
I can say emphatically, that anyone who has studied conservation or has a deep understanding of the history of conservation dynamics, will agree with Dr Anton Rupert’s statement that “conservation without money is conversation”. The old adage of “if it doesn’t pay it doesn’t stay” comes to mind when I see many ‘game farmers’ selling off their game stock to make room for cattle or agriculture (see any edition of Farmers Weekly). In our fast-paced materialistic world, consumption and greed and basic survival are unfortunately what drive most of our species. And yes, money, whether we like it or not, drives the system. A broken windmill in a game park takes money to fix. Vehicles take money to service and rangers are paid salaries. People have argued with me about game farming but let us briefly look at some facts: ostriches, before they were commercially farmed, were not guaranteed a future. We brought merino sheep into the Karoo, put down bore holes to water them and almost wiped out all the springbok because they competed with the sheep for grazing. Now, many farmers are selling their sheep as their lands become drier and are re-introducing springbok, which need way less water, and farming them. The Kruger National Park sells game when there are too many of a species, including rhino, to other game parks and game ‘farms’. This brings in revenue for the park and ensures the right carrying capacity is maintained…a win/win situation.
In a perfect world I personally would like nothing more than to see wildlife roaming free, not farmed, hunted or even confined to an area as large as the magnificent Kruger. But we don’t live in a perfect world, we messed it up a long time ago. All we can do now is ‘manage’ the areas that are still home to our wildlife. It is a question of how we manage these systems…and, again, there is no one correct system. Managing systems are based on many factors such as the soil types, water resource, vegetation, carrying capacity and much more.
With the above in mind, we need to manage rhino poaching in a number of different ways in order to control and hopefully stop it. As said in my earlier chapters on the matter, different ‘systems’ need to entertain different ways of managing.
The Kruger is not, and should not, dehorn their rhino, so they increase their armaments, ranger training and so on. They see it as an out and out war, which it is…and they are taking the fight to the poachers. This year approximately 70% (180 of the 303 slaughtered as at September 2011 have been in the Kruger).
Certain private ranches and smaller game parks are exploring the merits of treating the horns with an ecto parasiticide. If this works, it is certainly another solution worth exploring.
Legalising trade in horn needs to be investigated. Although many conflicting views abound in this arena, we need to remember the premise: ‘Do what is needed to save the rhino (or indeed, any species) before it is too late’. There are over 400 private rhino owners in South Africa who hold approximately 30% of our rhino population. Their combined lands equal the 2 million hectares of Kruger. Most of their rhino are already de-horned in an attempt to save the animals from poachers. CITES banned trade in rhino horn in 1976. Since then well over 65, 000 rhino have been butchered. No ban has ever been successful, it has simply been re-directed to criminals. If I were a rhino, I would rather be alive without my horn than brutally destroyed instead.
Educating the Asian markets is another option. Whilst we must never under estimate the power of education, I have an in-depth knowledge of China. I travelled through the rural mid-west for two months, I have experienced the poorest life styles and the wealth of the mega-cities like Beijing. I have interviewed doctors in universities and a cross-section of the public. I hope I am wrong but I do not see thousands of years of traditional medicine being changed before the last rhino is dead. It does not matter that there is no medicinal value in the horn. Placebo works if you believe it to, in any country or culture. But let’s at least try and educate, from the government down. I am exploring launching an initiative with Jackie Chan. He is a patron of Li Quan’s initiative, Save the South China Tiger. Without entering a different debate, the tigers have bred from two to ten in South Africa. So, South Africa is helping save the tiger, what if Jackie Chan campaigned for us and China could help save our rhino? Wishful thinking?
As said, we need to unite and not be caught up in this very emotional issue, we need to be objective and explore every way possible to save the rhino. The longer we debate the more rhinos are being slaughtered.
I have said it before and I say it again: “We need to stop talking about what we should be doing but do what we can do”.
I will be placing regular posts on what you CAN do without being prescriptive or biased.
#DOT … Do One Thing