Committed to saving the rhino from extinction
Nico Jacobs is the MD and owner of Aquanic Environmental Services and the founding member of Rhino 911
Tell me about your work trying to save rhinos from extinction.
In addition to my day job at Aquanic Environmental Services, I am the founding member and director of Rhino 911, a nonprofit organisation. We are the first responders to any rhino distress calls, working closely with our national and provincial reserves, private game owners, veterinary surgeons and others in rhino conservation in SA and Africa. What is Rhino 911?
Rhino 911 offers a pro bono emergency rescue service, from treating injured rhino, incursions, rescuing orphaned baby rhinos, searching for poachers and rhino carcasses for forensic data collection, and notching. Our aim is to protect and secure the complete landscape with advanced technology. Rhino 911 helicopters are airborne within 30 minutes of receiving an emergency call, 24/7. One-hundred percent of all donations go towards saving rhinos — I personally cover all admin costs, and our team are all volunteers. We rely solely on donations from corporate sponsors and wouldn’t survive without the help of the likes of Norton Rose Fulbright and Puma.
What did you study, and how does that help you do what you do?
I matriculated in 1988 and completed my commercial helicopter licence, private pilot licence for fixed wing and am a grade II-rated helicopter instructor. I am qualified to fly a selection of helicopters and am privileged to have completed advanced training courses in emergencies, night-vision goggles, sling and cargo and mountain rescuing.
What can the average South African do to protect rhinos?
First, we need to be aware of the problem. We are losing an average of three rhinos a day due to poaching. Rhino horn is one of the most expensive commodities on the black market. Rhinos, one of the most ancient and now endangered species in SA, are our heritage, and we need to protect them. People can get involved by lobbying the government to lift the ban on rhino horn — something we have been trying to do for years.
How does removing the ban help rhinos?
As long as the Cites ban is in place, there is no legal supply of rhino horn, so the criminal syndicates turn to illegal procurement — poaching. Legalisation would remove the poaching pressure from our wildlife system and would provide much-needed revenue to continue our conservation efforts.
A rhino has become much more of a liability to breeders and reserves than an asset. A live rhino today is worth about R140,000R200,000, but the horn alone can be worth R3-million. Rhinos do not have to be killed for their horns to be harvested. They regrow at a rate of 10cm a year.
I am not suggesting this is the ultimate solution but, after 15 years’ experience of rhino species devastation and slaughter, we owe it to our rhino to try a different approach.
What do you find most rewarding?
Saving an orphaned rhino. From hearing her cry next to her slaughtered mom’s body and saving that baby and see her grow into adulthood. Knowing that just by saving one orphan, we have effectively saved more than 40 rhinos because of all of her babies and the generations that will follow her. This makes our fight worthwhile.
Nico Jacobs flies off on an emergency rhino rescue mission.