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