Living in Africa is truly a blessing, with her diversity of wildlife all around us. But few people out there in the world know what we really have to contend with here in Africa. Our animals are not safe. Scores of them are killed illegally every single day.
In February 2018 we had a very bad spate of attacks on a rhino orphanage in South Africa, and during the same time we had a huge problem with poachers on the game reserve where I worked. I had guests with me at that stage and when I dropped them in the evening, I had to go out on night patrol, staying out all night protecting our rhino population on the reserve, then coming back in the early hours of the morning getting ready to take out the guests again.
We tried to keep this as low key as possible as we did not want to upset the guests. But they were not stupid and after a few days, they asked me what was going on. I told them about the rise in the attacks and killings of our rhino. They looked at me in absolute disbelief and told me that they did not know that we had poaching in Africa.
This is exactly the problem we have. People are ignorant about what is really going on in Africa. We have been fighting a battle against the Asian markets who, willfully and without any scruples, are taking out all our wildlife. Leaving Africa bare.
Rhino, elephant, pangolin, fish, abalone and recently even donkeys are high on the list on the Asian markets.
In the next few blogs, I will be concentrating on some of these animals that are in demand.
The first one I would like to discuss is the rhino, both black and white, which are in grave danger of becoming extinct in the next few years.
In the early years of 2000, a North Korean Government Official claimed that he was cured from cancer because he used rhino horn. This caused an unprecedented demand on our rhino population in Southern Africa. Syndicates in rhino horn trafficking on the black market were everywhere. They are using local people from impoverished areas to go into the protected areas, to hunt and shoot the rhinos. To remove the horn, they need to hack the horn off with axes. Sometimes, in their haste, these animals are not dead, just horribly wounded. This leaves them to wander around with mutilated faces, sometimes for days before they die from septic wounds.
Today we lose one rhino every eight hours in the Southern African region. A staggering number, bearing in mind that we only have around 17000 white rhinos in the wild left. The black rhino population is around 5500. Almost 21,000 people fit into the national basketball arena in Washington in the United States. All the white rhinos on the entire planet would fill only a third of its seats. The numbers of the black rhino are even lower.
The numbers below show how many animals have been killed every year till 2018. The statistics for 2019 have not been finalized yet so they are not included.
The numbers seem to be going down but there are two reasons for this. The absolute wonderful work that anti-poaching companies are doing to protect the animals day and night, and also the fact that the numbers of the animals are steadily going down. It is becoming ever harder to find a rhino, track it down and kill it.
Rhino horn consists of keratin, a substance that makes up hair and fingernails. There is no medical evidence anywhere that proves any medical benefit from using this. Today it is not only used medicinally but also seen as a status symbol in the Asian communities, using rhino horn to produce jewellery and bowls to use on the table. Rhino horn is sold at around $75,000 per kilogram.
When they are dead, our rhinos are worth more than gold.
While it is hard to put a specific worth on a live rhino, I believe their value far exceeds what they cost to buy. A rhino will live for a good 40 years in the wild, and during its lifetime the number of tourists it will bring surely far exceeds the money its horn can be sold for. That does not take into account the awe and respect they engender in almost all who have the privilege to see them. What value do you put on education of this stature?
Moreover, killing a female rhino immediately removes three generations. The mother, her calf, and the fetus she is most probably carrying. (A rhino is big, so their gestation period is a full 16 months.) That does not take into account the calves she would have raised during the rest of her long life.
We live in a world where capitalism has reached monstrous proportions. Nothing seems to have intrinsic value, only a financial worth. And in this capitalist value system, any amount of torture, abuse and destruction is worthwhile for financial gain. I have to disagree. It may be sentimental and schmaltzy, but I agree with the nurse who said none of the terminal patients she looked after said they regretted not making more money or gaining more power. They regretted not spending more time on friendship, family and connecting to the natural world.
That brings me to another point: The disconnect between humanity and the natural world, which has, I believe, reached epidemic proportions. We are so caught up in our world of concrete, tar and air conditioning that we are completely unaware of the great world out there – and the trauma we sometimes unintentionally cause its inhabitants.
So what to do if you do not buy rhino horn and do not support the trade in their body parts? Easy. Let your voice be heard. So much in this world has changed simply because the general sentiment changed. If you oppose the trade in animal parts – rhinos in particular – you help to bring public opinion worldwide to a tipping point, a world where poaching is seen as a terrible disgrace.
And visit Africa. Just by being here, you’ll make an immense contribution to the sustainability of the wildlife reserves on this great continent. You’ll create more jobs than you know. While enjoying yourself out in the wild you will help preserve our precious wildlife and the natural world.
And you, too, will fall under the spell of nature.