A step in the right direction for rhino protection
Too often we hear that another of our rhinos has been lost to poaching. But there’s not only bad news, as the folks at EcoTraining told me.
EcoTraining is a leader in formal training programmes for nature guides, and operates in South Africa, Botswana, Kenya and Australia.
Last week I headed north to Limpopo province, to the Karongwe Game Reserve, where I learnt all about anti-poaching methods being adopted to protect our rhinos.
One of the major issues that emerged from the 6-day trip was why so much focus is placed on rhinos, specifically, when other species are near extinction.
Thought to be extinct by 1894, the white rhino was discovered again near the Umfolozi River in KwaZulu-Natal a couple of years later, and was introduced into the Umfolozi Reserve. When their numbers had grown to about 600 in 1960, Operation Rhino began, which saw a large number of the rhinos being relocated to other protected areas around the world.
It would be sad if all these efforts went to waste.
Rhino poaching has become a R168-billion industry, and it is estimated that 1kg of rhino horn sells for about R1-million. A fully grown rhino’s horn can weigh up to 8kg.
The industry has grown to involve human trafficking, drug trafficking and the sale of fake designer clothing.
Rhino horn has been used for more than 2 000 years in Asian countries, such as China to cure fever and gout, and in Yemen to craft the handle of a jambiya (dagger), which is given to young males when they enter adulthood.
I was also told of the 5 levels of involvement of rhino poaching.
At the most basic and lowest level is the shooter. This is the person who does the actual killing, and is usually a poor citizen trying to support his family. So he is very easy to convince. At the next level is the recruiter, who recruits the shooters. Then there is the receiver, who conducts payment in exchange for the rhino horn. It’s been said that this is the hardest level to infiltrate. The last 2 levels are the exporters and consumers.
All of this makes me feel that if we work together, there is no need to despair.
Many new technologies and innovative ideas have had to be implemented to win the war against rhino poaching. The most basic of these has been giving field guides more training than is usually required, as they can now form part of anti-poaching units. Providing better quality equipment has also been part of the solution.
There has also been involvement from the military, forensic detectives and the South African Revenue Service, which is helping.
In 2010, there were 165 arrests; 232 in 2011; and 178 so far in 2012. The sentence for rhino poaching has also increased to 29 years. All of this makes me feel that if we work together, there is no need to despair.