En­dan­gered Species

We­gen ihres Horns, das teurer ist als Gold, Platin oder gar Heroin, wer­den Nashörner ge­jagt und sind vom Ausster­ben bedroht. LOIS HOYAL hat eine Farm in Südafrika be­sucht, auf der Nashörner dank eines beson­deren Schutzpro­jekts sicher sind.

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Can the rhino be saved?

An African sun­set is some­thing spec­tac­u­lar. If you’re go­ing to toast the set­ting sun with a cock­tail, or a “sun­downer”, as it is known in these parts, it should be with some­one spe­cial: a ro­man­tic part­ner, a fam­ily mem­ber, a loved one. Or a rhino, per­haps? I sip grate­fully on an ice-cold drink af­ter the heat of the day and look down at a fam­ily of rhi­nos wait­ing im­pa­tiently for their sup­per. There is just a wall and a drop of a few feet sep­a­rat­ing me from sev­eral of these enor­mous an­i­mals. In the back­ground, the African sun splits into a myr­iad of colours as it slips from sight. A gin and tonic with these mag­nif­i­cent crea­tures is a first for me. For Tessa Baber, though, whose home I am vis­it­ing, it’s a nightly event. Tessa and her hus­band, Ant, are com­mit­ted to saving and con­serv­ing rhi­nos in the Water­berg UNESCO Bio­sphere Re­serve in South Africa’s Lim­popo Prov­ince. The cou­ple own a pri­vate re­serve there and man­age two lux­ury bush lodges, Ant’s Nest and Ant’s Hill — home for my fam­ily for the week.

At Ant and Tessa’s place, rhi­nos gather each evening for their nightly sup­ple­men­tary feed. Hu­man guests are of­ten in­vited, too, and over a sun­downer and a canapé, they can get up close and per­sonal with the rhi­nos and learn about their plight.

More valu­able than gold

Rhino horn is com­posed of ker­atin, also found in hair and fin­ger­nails; it con­tains cal­cium and melanin, but its myth­i­cal prop­er­ties as an aphro­disiac and as a treat­ment for cancer and other dis­eases are what make it so valu­able on the black mar­ket (see box on p. 18). Rhino horn is cur­rently worth more per kilo than

gold, plat­inum or heroin. As a re­sult, rhi­nos are being hunted to near ex­tinc­tion.

In Novem­ber of 2012, Tessa and Ant

Baber set up Save the Water­berg Rhino

(STWR) to­gether with for­mer em­ployee Vic­to­ria Crake. This fol­lowed a series of hor­ri­fy­ing at­tacks: in late 2011, a white rhino cow was poached with her

11-month-old calf. Then, in July of 2012, an­other white rhino cow, Ba­nana Horn, was poached. This time, her 18-month-old calf, Lucky Max, man­aged to es­cape and was res­cued, de­hy­drated and call­ing for his mother. For­tu­nately, Max man­aged to sur­vive and re­mains both the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s in­spi­ra­tion and its em­blem.

STWR aims to stop the slaugh­ter in the Water­berg Bio­sphere Re­serve via fundrais­ing, in­creased se­cu­rity and greater aware­ness of the rhino poach­ing cri­sis. With some 1,250 white and black rhi­nos, the Water­berg is home to the third-largest rhino pop­u­la­tion in South Africa out­side of the Kruger Na­tional Park. As the threat of poach­ers re­mains se­vere, pre­serv­ing the Water­berg rhino pop­u­la­tion is fun­da­men­tal to their species’s sur­vival.

Fol­low­ing a visit to Ant’s, Mark Knopfler, for­mer lead gui­tarist of the Bri­tish rock band Dire Straits, was in­spired to become pa­tron of STWR. “I’ll never for­get the day my fa­ther came home from work to tell us that one of his col­leagues, a sup­pos­edly ed­u­cated man, had said: ‘What do I care if the rhino be­comes ex­tinct?’ I was a young teenager then and to­day this is a very

“Due to man’s greed, we may well lose these amaz­ing an­i­mals for­ever”

real dan­ger. Due to man’s greed, we may well lose these amaz­ing an­i­mals for­ever,” Knopfler said.

From an­other planet?

Mean­while, back on the ve­randa, I start as one rhino gives a cu­ri­ously high-pitched squeak. It’s al­most like the noise a dol­phin makes and not at all the sound I ex­pect from such a huge an­i­mal.

An­other rhino pushes a warthog out of his way and as­sumes prime po­si­tion in front of the feed­ing trough. Din­ner is on its way and there’s no way the rhi­nos are will­ing to share their meal.

Af­ter rhino feed is dis­trib­uted among the troughs, the rhi­nos get down to the se­ri­ous busi­ness of eat­ing. With their up­turned

horns, their ar­mour, mas­sive size and pi­geon-toed feet, they look as if they have been zoomed here from an­other planet. I’ve never seen such alien-look­ing crea­tures in my life. It’s un­be­liev­able to be al­most eye-to-eye with them.

At first, it irks me slightly see­ing these im­pres­sive crea­tures being fed like placid cows. These an­i­mals de­serve to be wild and free. But af­ter a mo­ment’s re­flec­tion, I re­al­ize they are: at Ant’s, rhi­nos live wild in a 12,500-acre pri­vate re­serve, free to roam, graze and gen­er­ally go about their rhino busi­ness. At the same time, they re­ceive sup­ple­men­tary feed at feed­ing sta­tions and are pro­tected around the clock by armed se­cu­rity guards keep­ing watch against poach­ers. It’s a safe haven and an im­por­tant step for­ward in the war against rhino poach­ing.

I watch as my daugh­ters, Eleri (11) and Aeronwy (9), kneel down and gen­tly stroke the head of one rhino, So­phie, from the safety of the raised deck. It’s a peace­ful mo­ment; the rhino looks so gen­tle and tame.

“Noth­ing would hap­pen if they fell down there, would it?” I ask one of the guides, fully ex­pect­ing a re­as­sur­ing re­sponse.

“Ah, no, that would be it — dead.” He makes a cut­ting mo­tion across his throat. “Very quickly, too, if they got in the way of the food.”

I kneel down be­side the chil­dren, plac­ing a steady­ing hand on their shoul­ders, hold­ing them back, just to be on the safe side. But I let them con­tinue to touch the rhino. Who knows if they will get the chance again? At the rate things are go­ing, be­fore my chil­dren are grown up, these strangely beau­ti­ful crea­tures will be ex­tinct.

Be­fore my chil­dren are grown up, these strangely beau­ti­ful crea­tures may be ex­tinct

Un­der pro­tec­tion: armed guard with rhi­nos in the Water­berg Re­serve


is a for­mer cor­re­spon­dent for Bloomberg News and has writ­ten for many mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers, in­clud­ingThe Guardian and The Times. She has also pub­lished two books. Con­tact: loishoyal@gmail.com

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