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

Sunday Times - - Careers - By MAR­GARET HAR­RIS

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.

Pic­ture: Ab­bott Lab­o­ra­to­ries

Nico Ja­cobs flies off on an emer­gency rhino res­cue mis­sion.

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