Written by: Currin’t Events and Andrew Campbell (GRAA)
The heroic actions of those that fight for the conservation of the rhino were recently acknowledged, celebrated and rewarded at the Rhino Conservation Awards. The gala dinner Awards ceremony was held on the 27th July at the Montecasino Ballroom in Johannesburg.
His Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco, Patron of the Awards, delivered the keynote address at the event, congratulated the winners for their exemplary efforts and was presented with the Grand Patron Award.
The annual Rhino Conservation Awards, which were founded by Dr Larry Hansen, are held in collaboration with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) of South Africa and the Game Rangers’ Association of Africa (GRAA). Co-founder of the Awards, Ms Xiaoyang Yu, founding partner of China New Enterprise Investment (CNEI), co-sponsored the Awards with ZEISS. The awards were held in the same week as World Ranger Day, which is celebrated on the 31st July.
Nominations for the awards were invited from African rhino range states. From the many nominations received, a shortlist of finalists was made and, from this list, the winners were chosen.
The winner in the Best Field Ranger category was Patrick Mwita. With intense knowledge of the black rhino population in the Southern Serengeti, Patrick effectively monitors the animals and has also bravely averted armed poaching attempts. He spends an extraordinary amount of time on extended patrols to ensure the safety of this critical population of Tanzania’s remaining black rhino. The first and second runners up in this category were William Ndobe (local legend in the Kruger National Park with 31 years of service) and Jeoffrey Kubayi (KNP field ranger, dog handler, tracker and poaching incursion detector).
Black Mamba APU won the Best Conservation Practitioner category. This anti-poaching unit, which consists of 26 women, conducts anti-poaching operations and focuses on educating the communities surrounding the Balule Nature Reserve in the benefits of conservation and rhino protection. Runners up were Don English (in charge of general conservation as well as rhino protection in the Kruger region with the highest density of rhino) and Bruce Leslie (Regional Ranger Special Operations, revolutionising tactical rhino anti-poaching operations in Kruger).
Taking the win in the Best Political and Judicial Support category was His Majesty King Mswati III, the King of Swaziland who has played a pivotal role in the protection of wildlife and, especially, the rhino. Swaziland’s anti-poaching success rate is incredible in the current climate with only three rhinos lost since 1992, and none in the last 12 months. The strong support and backing of the Game Amendment Act and Swaziland’s rangers by His Majesty is what strengthens anti-poaching and rhino conservation in Swaziland. Second place was awarded to both Adv Isabet Erwee (national record for the highest sentence ever handed down in a rhino poaching matter) and Adv Ansie Venter (appointed as one of the Specialised Prosecutors, Organised Crime, Mpumalanga responsible for prosecuting rhino poaching cases). The third place in the category was awarded to Mario Scholtz (responsible for the investigation of rhino poaching related aspects in SANParks).
The winner of the Best Science, Research and Technology category was Dr Jacques Flamand. Dr Flamand heads up the Black Rhino Range Expansion Project, which aims to increase growth and numbers of black rhino, working with a diverse group of land owners to secure the necessary sites for translocation. The project is largely responsible for black rhino numbers in KwaZulu-Natal increasing by 49%. The runners up were Dr Johan Marais (responsible for performing surgery on poached rhinos to save their lives by creating mask moulds for the exposed nasal cavity, protecting the opening long enough for healing to occur) and Piet Beytell (Principle Conservation Scientist for the Ministry of Environment and Tourism [MET], Namibia).
In the Best Awareness, Education or Funding category, Elise Daffue won the award. Elise is the founder of Stop Rhino Poaching that has an international and national footprint, focusing on funding of security initiatives and ranger support. Elise was instrumental in establishing strategic stakeholder relations on a national and regional scale for the implementation of efficient operational protective measures countering the threat of rhino poaching. Second and third place went to Unite Against Poaching (a fundraising initiative established by Unitrans Volkswagen through its participating dealerships) and the Peace Parks Foundation (PPF works closely with the South African Government, SANParks and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife as part of its multifaceted Rhino Protection Programme).
The additional Special Youths category, which honours youngsters that contribute in their own way to the conservation of the rhino, recognised four youths: Alyssa Carter, Calvin Erasmus, Kirsten Everett and Kelsey Hunt.
The award winners were announced by Chris Galliers, Chairman of the GRAA. Dr Michael Kaschke, Carl Zeiss Chief Executive Officer, handed over the gifts to winners and Xiaoyang Yu gave out trophies and certificates. Overwhelmed by the support shown for rhino conservation, Dr Hansen said: “It is a privilege to honour those that put their lives, their resources and their time on the line to eradicate rhino poaching in Africa. We thank you.”