Toxic touch to end an evil trade

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Escape - - ECO-WAR -

pump­ing, to the near­est na­tional park’s camp.

The ranger at the gate lis­tened as I re­counted my neardeath ex­pe­ri­ence, then pa­tiently ex­plained that the rhino, Che­wore, was well known to the au­thor­i­ties, and was not out to kill us.

“She was hun­gry,” the ranger said. “Hun­gry?” As far as I knew they didn’t eat people. The ranger said Che­wore had been or­phaned as a baby, her mother killed by poach­ers, and she had been hand-raised by park rangers be­fore be­ing re­leased back into the wild. She would for­ever as­so­ciate Land Rovers like ours with the food truck.

Che­wore’s heart­warm­ing story took a turn for the worse, though. When we re­turned to the park the fol­low­ing year, the same ranger told us Che­wore had gone miss­ing, pre­sumed killed by poach­ers.

Africa’s rhi­nos are in peril, their horn the prize in a deadly high-stakes war. Rhino horn is used in tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine not as an aphro­disiac (as is com­monly be­lieved) but for a more mun­dane ben­e­fit, as a hang­over pre­ven­tive.

Yes, this stuff is be­ing mar­keted in emerg­ing Asian economies, most no­tably Viet­nam, as a $65,000 per kilo­gram al­ter­na­tive to Panadol and Berocca, a must-have sta­tus sym­bol at par­ties held by the new ur­ban elite.

Last year 1004 rhi­nos were killed in South Africa, three times the num­ber slaugh­tered in 2010. This year, at the time of writ­ing, 277 had been lost, with 86 poach­ers ar­rested.

Rhi­nos have been wiped out of most of their home ranges in Africa, but South Africa has the high­est num­ber re­main­ing, thanks to an in­ten­sive con­ser­va­tion pro­gram, Oper­a­tion Rhino, that brought the species back from the brink of extinction in the last century.

To see one in the wild to­day head for the rhino-rich Hluh­luwe-iM­folozi game re­serves in KwaZulu-Natal, where Oper­a­tion Rhino be­gan, or to the south of the Kruger Na­tional Park.

Pi­lans­berg Na­tional Park, near the Sun City Casino, is also good for rhino spot­ting, and Namibia’s Etosha Na­tional Park is one of the best places in Africa to see black rhi­nos, whose num­bers are far fewer than the white rhino.

I’ve had some bril­liant up­close rhino sight­ings on foot dur­ing guided morn­ing walks from Pre­to­riuskop Camp in the Kruger Park. I had a friend, a ranger named Dun­can, who used to run these walks and on one oc­ca­sion a white rhino cow hap­pily wan­dered to within 5m of us while she was feed­ing.

White rhino – the name comes not from their colour but a cor­rup­tion of the word “wide”, re­fer­ring to the square shape of their mouths – are more placid than the blacks and have no­to­ri­ously bad eye­sight.

On the front line, South African soldiers, rangers and po­lice backed by he­li­copters, tracker dogs and drones are be­ing de­ployed to catch poach­ers, while ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns are be­ing de­vel­oped to con­vince users in Viet­nam they’re wast­ing their money.

Any tac­tic, no mat­ter how rad­i­cal is be­ing con­sid­ered in this eco-war. The Peace Parks Foun­da­tion, a South African­based NGO that pro­motes the cre­ation of cross-bor­der na­tional parks in Africa to re­store an­i­mal mi­gra­tion routes, is fund­ing a promis­ing oper­a­tion to in­fuse rhino horns with in­deli­ble dyes and tox­ins that make users nau­seous.

Aussie sci­en­tist and au­thor Tam­mie Mat­son points out that hu­man be­hav­iour can be changed. In her lat­est book about rhino and ele­phant poach­ing, Planet Ele­phant, she points out that western na­tions once used ivory to make piano keys and billiard balls.

When it comes to rhi­nos, Dr Mat­son said the chal­lenge was how to make serv­ing rhino horn at a party the op­po­site of cool.

“Nowa­days in Viet­nam you don’t know if the horn you’re buy­ing is poi­soned or not and that’s a very big risk to take if you’re try­ing to im­press your friends,” she said.

There’s no easy end in sight for this war, but there is the odd glim­mer of hope. I men­tioned the sad tale of Che­wore to Ni­cholas Dun­can, head of the Aus­tralian-based rhino char­ity the Save Foun­da­tion.

Ni­cholas told me Che­wore had not, in fact, been killed, but had wan­dered from Zim­babwe into neigh­bour­ing Botswana, where she was col­lected by rangers and taken to that coun­try’s in­ten­sively-pro­tected Khama Rhino Sanc­tu­ary.

She lives there to this day, and re­cently had a baby.

AT RISK: (clock­wise from main) A rhino in Kruger Na­tional Park; the an­i­mal’s horn is drilled and in­fused with a toxic dye to make it un­fit for hu­man con­sump­tion; and Tony Park at a breed­ing fa­cil­ity in Zim­babwe.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.