Saving Africa's rhinos
Photos and article by Jack Borowiak
Eastern Cape, South Africa:
It was 2012 when the two white rhinos at a game reserve were successfully poached with their horns completely removed. They survived. Their horns grew back. Yet six years later, the threat for poaching in South Africa has never been higher.
On a midwinter day this July, news surfaced that three poachers were eaten by lions and there were more poachers in the surrounding area. Four game reserves in the Eastern Cape had just been hit by poaching and this one did not want to be next.
As the sun set over the vast landscape the two rhinos were brought into a smaller and more secure fenced in area of the reserve. Dale, a ranger, explained this was a precautionary measure to protect the rhinos during high risk times such as the full moon when the poachers can use moonlight instead of torches to see. This makes it easier for them to not get caught from the bright light of a torch.
Both of the rhinos at the private game reserve were brought inside a fenced area for the night to protect them from poachers. Although the area was much smaller then the vast landscape they roam, they still had plenty of room to move around
South Africa is home to about 80 percent of the world’s 29,000 rhinos. Over the past 10 years South Africa has lost over 8,000 rhino due to poaching. It all started in 2007 when South Africa stopped the domestic trade of rhino horn which created a spike in poachers. Over 1,000 rhinos were illegally killed in 2017. This number is alarming given that only 13 rhinos were poached in 2007.
Protecting the declining numbers of rhinos has been a priority for people like John Hume, the owner of the world’s largest rhino farm. He owns over 1,300 rhinos, a fifth of South Africa’s privately held rhinos. His staff trims the horns of 10-15 rhinos each week and then sends them to a secure facility for safekeeping.
Dale believes Hume is doing the right thing and is not just harvesting the rhino horns for money but also to protect them from poachers. When asked on whether stockpiling the horns to cash in is okay, Dale said, “Every single horn that he [Hume] removes and throws away there is another rhino somewhere else that has to die for that horn”. Dale also claims the money Hume makes from selling the horns he puts back into preserving and protecting his rhino.
The question arises on why private game reserves do not trim the rhino horns to protect against poaching. Dale believes that the reserves refrain from this for three reasons; the potential for negative media, the cost, and the permit system. The later having the most weight.
It still is against the law to remove the rhino horn without a permit from the government. Once a permit is obtained the rhino horn can be removed safely. But at the same time the government publicly releases information on where the permits are granted. This makes it easier for poachers to know where the rhinos are.
One could say the fate of the rhinos is up to the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, which could make it legal to export a very limited number of rhino horns from South Africa. There exists a related historical precedent on such matters. There is a significant demand for lion bones internationally and the government established a policy which permits the export and sale of 1,500 lion skeletons annually. Dale believes, “If they legalized that, why don't they legalize the rhino horn?” Such a policy would have the potential to mitigate the proliferation of rhino poaching and its ugly black market.