Small Talk

Rhino ranger Har­ri­son Ka­mande puts his life on the line to keep black rhi­nos away from the hands of poach­ers, so as to pro­tect th­ese crit­i­cally en­dan­gered species for the next gen­er­a­tion

Singapore Tatler - - CONTENTS -

Rhino ranger Har­ri­son Ka­mande on pro­tect­ing wildlife for the next gen­er­a­tion

Ele­phant ivory, tiger pe­nis and rhino horn — the de­mand for na­ture’s odd­i­ties has seen a spike in the il­le­gal wildlife trade. In fact, over­ex­ploita­tion is the num­ber two cause of loss of species, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture. Three of five liv­ing species of rhi­nos are crit­i­cally en­dan­gered, thanks to the poach­ing of their horns, which pur­port­edly cleanses the body and blood of toxins, cures can­cer, and is an aphro­disiac. Rhino horns are be­ing smug­gled out of Africa to Asia, with China and Viet­nam as their des­ti­na­tion, and Sin­ga­pore is a ma­jor tran­sit hub. Over $1.5m worth of black rhino horn was seized here in 2014. On the front­line in this fight against il­le­gal wildlife trade is Har­ri­son Ka­mande, pa­trol leader for the Kenyan Wildlife Ser­vice in Nairobi Na­tional Park. Two-thirds of the 1,000 rhi­nos in Kenya are the crit­i­cally en­dan­gered black rhi­nos. Only 5,000 re­main in the wild, as com­pared to 20,000 of the white va­ri­ety, Africa’s other rhino species. Of th­ese, 90 black rhi­nos and 16 white rhi­nos re­side in the Nairobi Na­tional Park, un­der the protection of Ka­mande and his team. “We want to en­sure that the black rhino pop­u­la­tion stays healthy. We’ve heard about di­nosaurs be­fore they be­came ex­tinct, but they’re now only fic­tion. We’ve a re­al­ity with th­ese rhi­nos, so why not take care of their fu­ture?” Ka­mande, who was here as part of World Wide Fund for Na­ture Sin­ga­pore’s cam­paign against il­le­gal wildlife trade, talks about tack­ling poach­ing head-on.

What is a day in the life of a rhino ranger like?

A typ­i­cal day starts at 4am when we get the night pa­trol up­dates. Teams are as­signed to var­i­ous “blocks” while we are out in the field. We con­duct foot pa­trols twice a day in the early morn­ing and late evening—th­ese are the times when poach­ers gen­er­ally strike, so we are on high alert. Two teams are on standby at night. We en­sure the se­cu­rity of the wildlife and vis­i­tors in the park, and also ac­count for the num­ber of rhi­nos we have. When we know where the rhi­nos are and how they are do­ing, we are more likely able to en­sure their safety. It takes a day for poach­ers to suc­ceed, but our work re­quires 365 days.

Who are th­ese poach­ers and what are the tac­tics they use?

They are mostly lo­cals who are part of well-or­gan­ised car­tels. They hit the dif­fer­ent na­tional parks all at once, so you can imag­ine the re­sources needed: from ve­hi­cles to food, and even bribes for the vil­lagers. They act quickly—you may hear a gun­shot just be­fore dark, but it is al­ready night­fall when you get to the lo­ca­tion so you won’t be able to pur­sue the en­emy ef­fec­tively. But now that we’ve height­ened se­cu­rity, poach­ers are opt­ing for “silent” meth­ods—they put out snares and hunt for the an­i­mals to lure them in. They use poi­soned ar­rows and spears, and even poi­son wa­ter points, which kill other an­i­mals too.

You not only face the dan­ger of poach­ers but also the an­i­mals you pro­tect. Why do you do what you do?

There are risks—lions hunt­ing in the park, laugh­ing hye­nas and poi­sonous snakes, just to name a few—but we want to pro­tect the na­tional her­itage of our coun­try for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. Our fore­fa­thers took care of th­ese an­i­mals—hu­mans and wildlife co­ex­isted peace­ably— and they passed the ba­ton to us. But be­cause of un­sub­stan­ti­ated be­liefs, the de­mand for wildlife prod­ucts has spiked, and our an­i­mals are dis­ap­pear­ing to­day.

What do you want to say to the con­sumers of th­ese wildlife prod­ucts?

When­ever they con­sume them, re­mem­ber that it could be at the ex­pense of a ranger be­ing killed; or a ranger might have lost his job, putting his fam­ily in suf­fer­ing be­cause se­cur­ing an­other job would be dif­fi­cult; and an in­no­cent an­i­mal on the brink of ex­tinc­tion was killed.

What can we do to help curb il­le­gal wildlife trade?

If there’s no de­mand, you don’t have a mar­ket—that’s a win-win sit­u­a­tion. Voice your sup­port for any ac­tion against il­le­gal wildlife trade to lobby for stronger laws and en­force­ment. For ex­am­ple, when you see wildlife prod­ucts be­ing sold, re­port it to the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties. Poach­ing’s not a Kenyan prob­lem; it’s not a Sin­ga­porean prob­lem; but a global prob­lem that should to be ad­dressed by each and ev­ery one of us.

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