Seek­ing trans­port so­lu­tions PAGE 15

Horn har­vests and high hopes

Saturday Star - - NEWS -

to es­ca­late.

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.

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