Seeking transport solutions PAGE 15
Horn harvests and high hopes
Hume claims the government is now “stalling” his pursuit of permits to trade in rhino horn locally. Molewa is about to lodge her second appeal with the Supreme Court of Appeal.
But that there’s a local market for rhino horn is something Hume, who made his money from holiday resorts, seems certain about.
“There are 1.2 million Asians in South Africa, of which 400 000 are ethnic Chinese. All Chinese want to use rhino horn. Talk to any Chinaman about it and their eyes go like this,” he says, outrageously, raising his eyebrows, to show the apparent interest. “I’m telling you. What I would like to do is have auctions in Chinatown in Joburg. If I could sell one horn to one in a 1 000 Chinaman, that’s 400 horns a year.”
Sitting next to him, Albina, his 38-yearold Ukranian wife – his fifth – gently admonishes him. “We don’t actually know that there are that many local Chinese who are interested in rhino horn, my love.”
He brushes her aside. “I don’t care if a Chinaman puts the horn on their mantelpiece, makes jewellery or uses it medicinally. It’s a prestige product, and the rarer it is, the more expensive it is. Let us sell rhino horn to the people who can use it for what they wish.
“Why should I not be able to sell a fraction of what I’ve bred to pay for the survival of the rest?” he protests.
Albina tells how the couple have had to downgrade their lifestyle, moving from their farm in Mpumalanga, to this “ugly, flat land” three years ago, to escape.
But they’ve struck here too – 39 times in total in their bloody pursuit of the little horn that’s left. Hume’s vet dehorns the rhinos year-round.
Albina is sitting in her socks, wearing her sister’s recycled pink clothes. She hasn’t shopped for years and has only ever flown economy class. All their money – R5 million each month – is used to run the farm and secure the rhinos.
The rhinos are dehorned every two to five years, depending on the poaching pressure.
“We’re actually in a huge struggle, taking over this responsibility of caring for South Africa’s rhinos,” she claims. “And while he (Hume) has been saving the rhinos, the rest of the world and hundreds of NGOs who get blood donations have failed to save 5 000 poached rhinos.
“John is 74 and he’s been breeding rhino for 24 years. What for? For the love of money? Is it because he’s the greediest man on the planet? No. It’s to serve the world. When you keep people from legal supply, you are keeping the monopoly with illegal trade.”
If the government seeks to legalise the rhino horn trade at the upcoming meeting of the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in September, rhino farming would be the inevitable result – and Hume and other diminishing numbers of rhino farmers would benefit.
He has little confidence. “Whatever the government does, it will mess it up. They do nothing sensible,” he bellows. “We are losing the rhino war. They are going to go extinct, including my 1 234 rhinos.”
The media, he claims, publishes “nonsense figures” on the value of rhino horn, touting it at R65 000 a kilo or more. If I sell my five tons, I will not get back what my project has cost me, which is R1 billion.”
The department’s own biodiversity management plan for the white rhino, released at the end of last year, cautions against “very intensive zoo-type captive breeding” but notes how there may be “intensive options where rhino breeding is good and rhinos may suffer less poaching”.
Allison Thomson, the founder of Outraged South African Citizens Against Poaching, counters: “If you open up the rhino horn trade, it will increase demand. We have vets, rangers, police involved in rhino poaching. With perlemoen, there is legal trade, yet poaching is utterly out of control. We don’t want to see our wild rhinos on farms. There’s no conservation value.”
Experts warn that the demand for rhino horn in the Far East is bottomless and there’s little chance a legal trade mechanism, espoused by Hume and the pro-trading lobby, could be well-organised and policed. Instead, the black market trade would flourish.
Hume argues a legal trade in rhino horn would reduce the incentive for poachers, bankrupt organised criminal cartels and the generated funds could be pushed into rhino conservation.
He is ready to work with criminal syndicates to provide them with an “alternative supply”.
Rampant corruption and graft would be sorted out through “supply and demand”.
Surprisingly, he has “no problem” with ongoing demand reduction campaigns in consumer countries such as China and Vietnam.
“If you could manage to get the demand reduction down to zero, then my rhino will still be worth zero and therefore the poachers won’t want them. I’m fine with that because I save R3m a month on security.
“We’re losing the war in the Kruger. If you don’t get private enterprise into rhinos, they will go extinct. Those people (opponents of trade) don’t want to see it. They want them wild and free. And then they’ll be dead. Like they are in the rest of Africa.”
Albina nods: “All rhinos in South Africa are semi-wild; in the Kruger they are used to humans in their vehicles. By the way, they see our vehicles much less here than they do there.”
Hume plans to reach his dream of breeding 200 rhinos a year within months.
“That’s all I want to do: breed rhinos and protect them, so that when I leave this Earth, I can be responsible for many more rhinos in my herd than I found when I arrived,” he enthuses.
SHOWING BITE: A dog peers out of the window of John Hume’s bakkie as a rhino approaches. ALL ABOUT TIMING: Millionaire John Hume, below, breeds rhino and has about 1 500 on his private game ranch, which he started in 1992. All his rhinos have been dehorned.