Rhinos in the spotlight
It’s not easy being a rhino in today’s environment. These huge pachyderms are threatened on a daily basis and the modern-day demand for rhino horn is responsbile for the death of at least one rhino a day. But nature lovers and conservation authorities are pulling together to protect our precious heritage.
The most recent count reveals that 245 rhinos have been poached in Southern Africa during this year alone. Yet amid this gloomy outlook, there is some good news. The new rhino war has brought people together with the common cause of protecting our rhinos.
Here’s a look at some of the excellent initiatives by our conservation authorities, as well as people like you and me:
#1. Spreading the message at new heights
One of the stories that touched our hearts this year was that of father and son team Rene and Dante Burdych. Rene (41) and his son Dante (12) embarked on a trip to Mount Everest base camp to spread the message of the poaching crisis in South Africa. In May this year and carrying the banner of Unite Against Poaching, Rene and Dante successfully arrived at the base camp of the world’s most famous mountain. They spoke to fellow climbers from all parts of the globe and held the Unite Against Poaching banner aloft for the world to see.
“We are proud to do this trek in support of the parks we love so much,” Rene says. “This isn’t a competition about who’s done what or who’s given more money. This is much bigger than that, this is about the survival of a magnificent creature.”
#2. Unite Against Poaching with new wheels
The Unite Against Poaching campaign is a lifeline for anti-poaching projects in South Africa. The Honorary Rangers of South African National Parks (SANParks) have teamed up with Unitrans Audi and Volkswagen Motors for an exciting initiative. For every Unitrans Audi or Volkswagen vehicle sold, Unitrans donates R500 towards counter poaching in our national parks.
Donations go towards a counter poaching trust managed by the SANParks Honorary Rangers. Unite Against Poaching has already raised R2.73 million, money that helps provide field rangers with the necessary equipment and training required to fight rhino poaching in our parks.
#3. Sniffer dogs – a poacher’s worst nightmare
Poachers may be able to hide from law enforcement officials, but can they dodge trained tracker dogs? The SANParks Honorary Rangers are sponsoring a project for tracker dogs to assist counter poaching teams in the Kruger National Park. Three adorable slanty-eyed foxhounds are being trained to ignore animal tracks in favour of their human quarry. Foxhounds have excellent tracking abilities and will help Kruger’s counter poaching team to track poachers faster and more efficiently. It is hoped that the dogs will be deployed in the Kruger National Park before the end of the year… We can’t wait to hear more about their progress.
The project is being made possible by a R43 000 donation through the Unite Against Poaching sponsorship. This initiative by Unitrans Volkswagen and Audi donates R500 for every car sold through their dealerships. So it is fitting that the foxhounds have been named Kombi, Jetta and Chico.
# 4. The Protectors
South African National Parks
As South Africa’s flagship game reserve, the Kruger National Park (KNP) is home to thousands of rhino. Unfortunately, this also means Kruger is often the target of poachers. SANParks have joined forces with the SAPS and SANDF to bring poachers to book. Rangers are equipped with night vision goggles and thermal binoculars, and recently a bantam aircraft was added to the line-up. So far this year 38 suspected poachers have been arrested.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife
In the 1960s, the Natal Parks Board, now known as Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, ensured the survival of rhinos through a large scale project. Operation Rhino saw the successful relocation of thousands of animals in the hope of establishing new breeding populations. The project achieved great success and today over 90 per cent of all the rhinos in Africa are found in South Africa.
Big Game Parks of Swaziland
June 2011 brought the tragic news that Swaziland had lost its first rhino in 20 years. Poachers had crossed one of the strictest and most respected poaching laws in the world: the Game Act. According to this act, poachers face a minimum of five years in jail and must pay for the replacement of the rhino, an amount of approximately R200 000. Swaziland’s Big Game Parks may have lost their proud record, but the parks continue to be fierce protectors of both white and black rhino and Mkhaya Game Reserve offers the opportunity to track white rhino on foot.
#5. Events that help to raise awareness
There are many events that help raise awareness and funding to combat the poaching crisis. One of the important days to remember is World Rhino Day. On 22 September this year, we will celebrate the third annual World Rhino Day by standing together to speak with one voice. Have a look online to find out about events being planned and do your part to spread the word.
We may feel like we are in a losing battle but we can be proud of the many people and organisations that are doing their best to put an end to rhino poaching. We hope that in years to come our grandchildren will be able visit parks and reserves and, like us, be able to spot rhinos. Besides, what would it be like to go on a safari and see only the Big Four?