Fierce pas­sion to end poach­ing

LIFE’S WORK FOR CU­RA­TOR

Southern Gazette (South Perth) - - South Perth - Tim Mayne

BE­ING shot at, beaten up, nearly tram­pled to death by a 5000kg ele­phant and sleep­ing on the ground may not seem an ideal way to spend your spare time, but Perth Zoo cu­ra­tor John Lemon de­scribes his con­ser­va­tion ef­forts as “the great­est thing I could do with my life.”

John’s love of an­i­mals be­gan while he was at high school when he worked part-time in a pet sup­plies store.

Straight af­ter leav­ing school he took up a po­si­tion at West­ern Plains Zoo in Dubbo in New South Wales where he soon de­vel­oped a keen in­ter­est in chee­tahs, painted dogs and other car­ni­vores.

Af­ter fur­ther stud­ies, John’s pas­sion for the an­i­mals he loved so much be­came more of an ob­ses­sion, which led him to suc­cess­fully ap­ply for the NSW Friends Fel­low­ship.

John went to Zim­babwe in 2000 and from that mo- ment he was determined to make a dif­fer­ence – and that in­cluded mak­ing dra­matic changes to his own life.

“I quit my job at the zoo in Dubbo, sold ev­ery­thing I owned, ex­cept my house, and stayed in Zim­babwe for more than two years,” John said.

“I joined the Painted Dog Con­ser­va­tion group as a project of­fi­cer and in 2003 we built the largest re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion hold­ing fa­cil­ity in the world.”

He says his pas­sion for in­ter­na­tional con­ser­va­tion quickly be­came a ma­jor fo­cus of his life. “I quickly re­alised the ex­tent of the prob­lem when I saw dogs that were in road ac­ci­dents, shot by farm­ers or poach- ers, had been at­tacked by other preda­tors or been rav­aged by dis­eases such as par­vovirus and ra­bies.”

He said he was shocked to learn how much poach­ing was go­ing on, to the point where painted dogs were go­ing to be ex­tinct within the next 10 years.

“I went on regular poach­ing pa­trols with trained teams of lo­cal peo­ple work­ing on a 365-day ros­ter cov­er­ing more than 40km a day,” he said.

“We had a shoot-to-kill pol­icy and there have been vi­o­lent con­fronta­tions, but that is the re­al­ity of go­ing up against poach­ers.”

John says join­ing forces with the Zam­bian gov­ern­ment led to fur­ther suc­cess in the anti-poach­ing cam­paign and ed­u­cat­ing the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion about why painted dogs and other na­tive African species is im­por­tant to the na­tion’s own well be­ing.

“As I be­came more in­volved with lo­cal as­so­ci­a­tions such as the Wild Dog Project, the Zam­bian Car­ni­vore pro­gram and Painted Dog Con­ser­va­tion Inc I be­came deeply in­volved with the lo­cals as well,” John said.

“An im­por­tant part of what we were do­ing was get­ting the lo­cals in­volved in th­ese pro­grams – we had for­mer poach­ers who were now part of the anti-poach­ing pa­trols be­cause they had the best knowl­edge about the meth­ods used and where snares to cap­ture wild an­i­mals were placed.

“Through lec­tures and spread­ing the mes­sage on­line, the con­ser­va­tion mes­sage spread and I man­aged to raise funds to sup­port th­ese pa­trols through Perth Zoo. I was also able to gain sup­port from celebri­ties such as Simon Reeve, from Mil­lion Dollar Minute, Sir Richard Bran­son and the “Lion Whis­perer” Kevin Richard­son.”

Through his lo­cal con­tacts in Zim­babwe, John quickly learnt why poach­ing is so popular in Africa.

“I learnt that prod­ucts taken from the an­i­mals poached in Africa were of­ten sent to Australia and then fun­nelled through to Asia and end up in tra­di­tional Asian medicines.

“Pow­der from a rhi­noc­eros tusk is worth more than an ounce of gold, so un­for­tu­nately there is still a huge in­cen­tive for poach­ers to risk their lives and kill or cap­ture th­ese an­i­mals.”

John said the hor­ror sto­ries did not stop there.

“Some an­i­mals caught end up in ‘pet­ting zoos’ or things such as ‘lion parks.’

“Th­ese parks would pub­licly state that the an­i­mals were ‘re­leased into the wild’ af­ter time spent in th­ese pet­ting zoos, but that is a lie; they end up in what is of­ten called ‘canned hunt­ing.’

“They are put in an area no big­ger than about one acre where they are killed by a game hunter, usu­ally from over­seas, who has paid big money to kill a lion or an­other large car­ni­vore.”

John and his wife were so in­censed they wrote to Fed­eral politi­cian Greg Hunt and late last year they were suc­cess­ful in stop­ping the im­por­ta­tion into Australia of all lion prod­ucts.

John says it has taken time, money and ef­fort to achieve what he has so far, but says he will con­tinue to split his time be­tween his work at Perth Zoo and work­ing in the field in Africa.

John Lemon and a vol­un­teer with a lion that had been caught in a poacher’s trap. Right: John Lemon with an an­tipoach­ing team in Zim­babwe.

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