In the last month, One Land Love It; a conservation non-profit focused on rhino, has sponsored rhino dehorning and collaring exercises on private game reserves in the Eastern Cape.
Eastern Cape, South Africa (04 May 2021) – A large male rhino stumbles drunkenly, head and horn held high in a valiant attempt to maintain his dignity. Confused, he stops and tries to keep his balance, his thighs quiver, and he sways. On the waiting game vehicle, the onlooker’s eyes are glued to this magnificent animal, a small, thin, yellow dart incongruously lodged in his tough hide, skilfully fired from the vet’s dart gun. A collaborative sigh of relief is released as the drug takes effect, and 2 tons of rhino falls to his knees in the dust. Relief because he has fallen without injury, in a clearing, easily accessible to this group of passionate conservationists. Men and women intent on applying their skills and resources to protect him from those who may have similarly targeted him, but for different reasons.
In the last month, One Land Love It (OLLI), a conservation non-profit focused on rhino, has sponsored rhino dehorning and collaring exercises on private game reserves in the Eastern Cape. The ripple effect of the devastation that COVID-19 has exerted on the hospitality industry finds conservation on the receiving end as many reserves are cash-strapped and potentially vulnerable.
Rhino horn, more expensive than gold, is the subject of much debate. To dehorn or not to dehorn? To burn, stockpile or trade? To invest or disinvest? Whatever your view, there is no question that our rhinos’ future rides a rollercoaster of uncertainty.
“We do not want to say we stood by and watched as the rhino became extinct in our lifetime – we urgently need to move from caring to doing!” – One Land Love It.
Recent statistics released by Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister, Barbara Creecy, show a 33% decline in rhino poaching in 2020 in SA, home to approximately 80% of Africa’s rhino. Further encouraging news would be that this is the sixth year reflecting a downward trend with 394 rhino poached for their horn in 2020 compared to 594 in 2019. This is a dramatically different figure to the spike of 1 215 rhino poached in 2014.
Clearly, lockdown restrictions would have helped with trade routes and park gates being closed and nationwide policing and roadblocks in place during this time, as evidenced by a resurgence towards the end of 2020 as lockdown levels eased. However, in stark contrast to this seemingly positive feedback are the alarming statistics showing a 67% drop in Kruger National Park’s white rhino population over the last 10 years. Currently, Kruger, custodian of the largest rhino population, has only 3 529 white rhinos and 268 black rhinos left in the park, a combined population of less than 4000. Factors such as drought, but predominantly the remorseless and relentless poaching by an intricate web of international syndicates, have taken their toll.
In the face of such startling statistics, the glaringly obvious question is, could the decline in poaching figures reflect the decline in population and that quite simply, there is less poaching because there are fewer rhino left to poach?
Although it is becoming an economic millstone, a large percentage of South Africa’s rhino are privately owned. Funding derived primarily from tourism for, among other requirements, Protected Area and Conservation Management and Security costs for Anti-Poaching Unit infrastructure – has all but dried up as a result of Covid-19. Yet private reserves are doing an outstanding job of protecting their rhino, with only 37 of the 394 poached in 2020 being in private hands. The important role of the private rhino owners was acknowledged in Minister Creecy’s High-Level Panel Report released on Sunday.
We cannot deny that we are facing a conservation crisis and that until the economy turns or our doors open to foreign tourism, the situation will only worsen. Add to this scenario, communities faced with unemployment and financial insecurity – it is inevitable that consumption poaching for basic survival will also increase, and desperate people living alongside reserves are easy targets for poaching syndicates with their eye on a much bigger prize.
With knowledge comes responsibility, and we cannot afford to use the excuse of ignorance, of rhino fatigue or personal inadequacy. The late Ian Player’s comment still rings true, ‘Every debate is important because it keeps the issue alive, and right now that is critical if rhinos are to survive. This directive from the man who brought the rhino back from the brink of extinction in the 1960s. The solutions may be complex, but the best time to act and “debate” is now.
One Land Love It has been active throughout Lockdown providing care packs and educational conservation outreaches – “Nourishing Tummies – Nourishing Minds” to communities living on the borders of parks. They have also pursued various initiatives to support the Anti-Poaching Units, who are on the frontline of what is essentially a war on our rhino and supported wildlife crime investigation initiatives. More recently, they have been sourcing funds to support different private game reserves with their dehorning and collaring efforts in an attempt to bring some respite to the burden of rhino protection management.
Wildlife Veterinarian, Dr William Fowlds, who has overseen these procedures, said, “It is in times like these when conservation is placed under severe pressure due to the crippling impact of Covid-19, that we really appreciate the support of people who help us to keep our rhinos tracked and protected. We just want to say thank you to organisations like OLLI, who are raising awareness and guiding folks who are passionate about wildlife, to come forward and help us to fulfil these tasks”.
We are all capable of so much and collaboratively even more. If there were ever a need to move from caring to doing for the sake of our rhino, it’s now!
Members of the public can report any suspicious activities around wildlife to the environmental crime hotline, which is 0800 205 005, or the SAPS number 10111
One Land Love It NPC uses funds raised through donations to further the fight against wildlife crime. To donate or find out more, visit www.move.oneland.co.za.