When I was approached to write a short post for Rhino Friday, I mused a bit about which angle I would take. Being an engineer by training I could dig up a mountain of research and overpower you with facts and statistics and hypotheses…yet I felt I would approach this from a more artistic, emotional side.
Why is it important to curb the current epidemic of rhino poaching? Is it just because we have a passion to see the species conserved and protected so our children and their children may also grow up in a world where every last wild rhino was not wiped out due to some silly myth believed by an emerging powerhouse in the East? It is, but it’s more than that.
Most of us who’ve done a bit of research actually fear and know that when they are finished with our rhino, our elephants will be next (it’s already happening) and so too our lions and leopards for their bones. There’s an insatiable hunger in the countries concerned for the body parts of these animals…and that is what really needs to be stopped. Unfortunately this can only be done over long periods through in-depth education at grassroots level and this should have started long ago.
What’s also at stake is the aesthetics of the matter. As an avid nature photographer it is important for me to be able to capture as much of the rhino’s beauty and spirit as possible before it’s too late. But as a photographic safari host and one who has a keen interest in seeing South Africa’s tourism flourish I know that tourists and photographers who come here would be somewhat discouraged if there were to be an extermination of the species…how can we convince the world that our natural heritage is important to us when it seems like it’s more important to them? How can we convince them when poachers get meagre sentences, and syndicates aren’t cracked down on ferociously?
There’s a big camp of people pushing for legalising the trade and introducing “horn farming”. I can see the merit in some sense but, besides nobody having a clue how huge the actual demand would be, there’s no guarantee that it would curb poaching (all legalised high value items still have black market trading – blood diamonds anyone??). Also – wouldn’t legally selling the horn to people fuel the faulty beliefs that the horn does have medicinal value? Doing this would undermine any effort to bring coherent and rational education on the matter to the people at grassroots level.
What really irks me is how a country like South Africa (I am a South African citizen, by the way) can even still have legal rhino hunting permits??? I am not against hunting for the pot – I grew up with that, but big game trophy hunting is an enigma I cannot fathom. I know deep down it’s probably a measuring of manhood (or womanhood these days!) at its basest form…you know: “mine is bigger than yours, nanananana!”. I applaud countries like Botswana and recently Zambia for banning the hunting of big cats specifically. Lion numbers are in such a decline and trophy hunters invariably want to shoot the strongest and best male specimens, leaving the gene pool of the species thinned out after every hunt. Rhino is a different matter…when every effort is put in to try and save them from poachers elsewhere, what message does it convey when the same rhino that is guarded by anti-poaching teams and the SA Defence Force in Kruger can just wander into the Timbavati (no fences) and be shot there legally?
It’s been shown over and over that the earning potential of any animal (specifically the big 5) is exponentially higher from a photographic safari viewpoint than from a trophy hunting perspective. More and more people are getting passionately into wildlife photography – the market is literally booming. We can derive far more joy and pleasure from all our big game species by conserving them and generating photographic tourism revenue from them for their entire lifecycle than by mercilessly killing them off for some rich dude from overseas.
Enough ranting from me. Here’s a White Rhino bull I photographed last year. It was a joy!