My field-guide friend had grimly comical advice for me the other day.
“The next rhino you see, just walk up to it and give it a big French kiss. Kiss it goodbye, because rhinos are going extinct if things carry on like this.”
It’s hard to overstate the anger that South Africans feel towards rhino poachers. Of all our conservation successes, rhinos were among the top 5.
Now a new craze for rhino horn is threatening this animal’s existence. The other day I saw a plea for South Africans to send their fingernail and toenail clippings to China and Vietnam, because this is all that rhino horn is - compressed keratin, like fingernails.
Last year 333 rhinos were killed in South Africa. Already this year another 170 from January to June. Almost every week, another horror story in the papers about a rhino being killed and its horn hacked from its face.
Dr Ian Player, committed years of his life to a team that helped save the white rhino from certain extinction in the 1960s. Now nearly 84, he is once again consumed by the battle.
Every national park and game reserve with rhinos is on maximum alert. Some desperate private nature reserve owners say they have injected poison into their rhinos’ horns, which will harm anyone who ingests it.
The army has been deployed in hard-hit Kruger National Park and several poachers have been killed. International relations are being harmed.
The sudden rise of poaching in 2007 is usually linked to a rise in Asian prosperity and a Vietnamese politician alleging he was cured from a serious illness.
It took African game parks by surprise.
But now people are angry. There have been too many pictures of dead rhinos, defaced and mutilated. Will our children see them alive? Will we let them slip from this planet?