John Hume is a South African rhino farmer. He owns & protects more rhinos than anyone else in the world—around 1,261.
At his farm in Klerksdorp, about 100 miles southeast of Johannesburg, he has a vet who works year-round dehorning them. That’s allowed him to build up a four-ton stockpile of horn, which is more valuable than gold.
South Africa is home to about 80 percent of the world’s rhinos. Poaching has grown substantially, from 13 rhinos in 2007 to 1,175 last year. It was a slight drop from 2014, but still an “unacceptable” number, according to conservationists.
In the half-light of a South African dawn, the team works quickly, professionally securing the rhino down to remove its horn.
In most cases across southern Africa, the animal will die to provide a commodity coveted in Asia as medicinal. But in this case, its horn is harvested to keep poachers away.
Rhino horn, when removed correctly, is painless & grows back like hair or a nail would.
John Hume’s farm is the world’s biggest captive breeding operation and houses 1,261 rhinos, four per cent of the global population.
Around one ton of rhino horn is produced by Hume’s animals each year.
At present he is fighting a court battle with the South African government to sell a five-ton stockpile, arguing that it would help slow the illegal trade as well as sustain his own breeding operation.
“It’s not the demand for rhino horn that’s killing our rhino, it’s the way that demand is currently supplied,” the former property developer explains.
In the 1970s, there were 65,000 rhinos roaming the plains of Africa but today the number has dwindled to 26,000.
Millions of dollars have been poured into the anti-poaching effort. Security operations include drones and dogs, celebrities queue to plead for rhinos’ lives and campaigns in Asia try to dispel the notion horns can cure cancer or hangovers.
But Hume argues that rather than trying to fight criminal syndicates or squash traditions going back centuries, he and fellow farmers should be allowed to practise a sustainable trade, since horn grows back and can be harvested every 18 months.
Conservationists say he is at best naive to think such a supply can keep up with demand and at worst greedy.
He rejected the suggestion his motive was to get rich and said the cited value of rhino horn as $76,000 a kilo was “grossly exaggerated”.
“If I were able to sell, I could maybe just scrape by running my farm,” he said. “I am de-horning them to make them less attractive to poachers but having done that, it’s stupid not to use that to protect them.”
Despite a security operation that consists of guards, twice-daily roll calls, a helicopter, infrared sensors and electric fencing, Hume’s farm has been hit repeatedly by poachers who kill just for the broad stump left behind.
All he wants, he insists, is to make enough money to make rhino breeding sustainable so he can hand his farm on to his son.
John Hume has bred 886 rhinos in his lifetime and his goal for this year is to breed another 200 rhinos to help save the species from extinction.
“It is my life’s ambition to save the rhino from extinction,” he said. “The best thing we can do is breed and protect them.”