Read why our editor feels the need to feed oxy­gen to a rhino.

The well-in­tended ban on rhino horn trade has seen poach­ers dou­ble their kills

The Witness - Wheels - - FRONT PAGE - AL­WYN VILJOEN

SO des­per­ate are game rangers with rhino in their care that two of them told me last week they’d wel­come it if poach­ers would call them and ask to buy the horn di­rect, and never mind the law.

One ranger, who can­not be named while govern­ment is still lend­ing its col­lec­tive ear to rhino horn smug­glers (who want to keep sup­ply low and prices high), said he’d let any poacher have a horn for R5 000. That way he would cover the cost of tran­quiliser and the he­li­copter to find the rhino, but more im­por­tantly, he would keep his rhi­nos alive, in­stead of ev­ery week finding a new one slowly dy­ing in the veld with half its face hacked off.

The rangers’ views were en­dorsed by vet­eri­nar­i­ans, who told me if govern­ment al­loweda trade in rhino horn, the South African govern­ment and game farms would — again — be able to raise rev­enue by sell­ing rhino horn.

They still have hope this can hap­pen, but this time not through tro­phy hunt­ing, but in­stead by im­ple­ment­ing the late Ian Player’s sug­ges­tion to cre­ate a con­trolled stock­pile of rhino horn and sell­ing this to the world, much like De Beers does with di­a­monds. To date, this sound idea has just been an­swered by vague fears that a le­gal trade in rhino horn may spark an un­sus­tain­able level of de­mand from the East.

So in­stead of see­ing a rise in rhino num­bers, as was the case when game farm­ers could host tro­phy hunters who paid top dol­lar to shoot rhi­nos for their horns, we now have on av­er­age one rhino wounded, its face hacked off and the an­i­mal left to die an ag­o­niz­ing death ev­ery day.

Be­tween 2008 and 2015 an es­ti­mated 5 500 rhi­nos were slaugh­tered this way in South Africa and the rangers in Hoed­spruit pre­dict this year would see 1 800 rhino killed if cur­rent trends con­tinue.

This will be dou­ble the num­ber of rhi­nos killed in 2014. Is it any won­der then that des­per­ate rhino rangers are now of­fer­ing to aid and abet the smug­glers?

My fin­ger in the dyke

Try­ing to stem this bloody tide of slaugh­ter, I last week drove an Isuzu to the Blue Canyon Con­ser­vancy in Hoed­spruit in Mpumalanga. I had in mind sun­down­ers and glamp­ing. In­stead I got to put shoul­der to the rhino and told to keep this oxy­gen in that nos­tril as I learned amid the ticks and dust just how much ef­fort and money go into keeping th­ese gen­tle giants safe in the cen­tre of SA’s rhino poach­ing epi­demic, where at least one rhino poach­ing is re­ported daily.

Isuzu into the breach

Th­ese costs is why Isuzu sup­ports Nkombe Rhino, a non­profit or­gan­i­sa­tion that funds de-horn­ing of rhino to se­cure them against poach­ing. The process takes place ev­ery 18 to 24 months as the horns grow quite rapidly.

The night be­fore the de­horn­ing, the grim talk around the fire could have come straight from SA’s bor­der war in the 1980s.

As a lion huffed a lot too close for my com­fort, I heard how the anti-poach­ing rangers had made two con­tacts the day be­fore — with “con­tact” de­fined by a heavy cal­i­bre gun bat­tle — how a dif­fer­ent group of poach­ers had shot at the lit­tle Robin­son he­li­copter, how more in­tel is needed about new in­sur­gents from Mozam­bique. Our hosts, a group of ex­pe­ri­enced rangers and vet­eri­nar­i­ans, ex­plained to us city slick­ers their aim is to find 25 rhino in the con­ser­vancy over a three­day pe­riod, tran­quilise each one from a he­li­copter and cut off the horn in a few min­utes be­fore wak­ing up the an­i­mal again.

The se­dated rhino is fed oxy­gen, while its two horn stubs are quickly trimmed off with a small chain saw and filed flat us­ing an an­gle grinder.

While be­ing put to sleep and wak­ing up horn­less is cer­tainly a strange ex­pe­ri­ence for the young calves, is a lot bet­ter than be­ing shot by a hunter or poacher.

The horn then takes about two years to grow back to a size the poach­ers want, but with rhino horn sell­ing for close to R1 000 a gram in the Ori­ent, even the stubs have to be guarded while lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties are ed­u­cated and told of the lack of horns inside the fence.

Isuzu brand man­ager Mlungisi Nonkonyana said they sup­port the de-horn­ing process be­cause it works.

De-horned rhi­nos in cer­tain Zim­bab­wean con­ser­van­cies ap­pear to have a 29% bet­ter chance of sur­viv­ing than horned an­i­mals. And when the Blue Canyon Con­ser­va­tory saw one rhino poached last month, the neigh­bour­ing Kruger Park re­ported six rhino killed in the same day.

Isuzu’s sup­port comes in the form of funds to track and dart th­ese al­most pre­his­toric crea­tures and a fleet of KB 300 4x4 dou­ble cab bakkies as sup­port ve­hi­cles in the oper­a­tion.

Nonkonyana can right­fully boast about Isuzu’s long his­tory of pro­vid­ing real so­lu­tions to is­sues that af­fect com­mu­ni­ties within South­ern Africa, start­ing with Oper­a­tion Rachel in 1993 and Oper­a­tion Man­dume in 2007, which were very ef­fec­tive cam­paigns against the pro­lif­er­a­tion of il­le­gal firearms in South­ern Africa.

“To­day we are lend­ing a help­ing hand to Nkombe as a part­ner in the fight against Rhino poach­ing. With­out con­crete ac­tion to pre­vent fur­ther loses, we are likely to lose this an­i­mal for­ever,” said Nonkonyana. • To help lobby for a lift on the ban of rhino trade, link up with www.rhi­noAlive.co.za, where rhino own­ers and con­ser­va­tion­ists ex­plain why govern­ment’s de­ci­sion to ban le­gal trad­ing of rhino horn is wrong.

PHOTO: AL­WYN VILJOEN

(Top) Guard­ing rhino horn worth mil­lions of rands on the back of an Isuzu, an­tipoach­ing rangers Vusi Monareng and Austin Ngo­mane are happy to un­dergo rou­tine lie-de­tec­tor tests to prove they have not been bribed by horn smug­glers.

PHOTO: BOBBY CHEETHAM

Putting shoul­der to the rhino, Wheels editor Al­wyn Viljoen learns why a ban on rhino horn trade only ben­e­fits the poach­ers.

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