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Screenshot showing the white rhino in a Russian circus.
Screenshot from a video showing Mafa the white rhino in a Russian circus. Source: The Great Moscow State Circus YouTube page
Opinion post: Written by Simon Espley, CEO of Africa Geographic

This appears to be how a (small) sector of South Africa’s respected and burgeoning wildlife conservation industry is now monetising their investment into ‘conservation’. A two-ton white rhino, sold from a South African farm, is being forced to perform tricks at Russian circuses. Mafa the rhino’s subjugation and capitulation to the life of circus pony with painted face and bejewelled ankles has been widely criticised on social media. And, bizarrely, some even support this circus act, with one individual even suggesting that this is OK because the rhino gets to ‘avoid poacher bullets’ (yes, actual reasoning on a social media comment stream).

The video clip below, from the Russian State Circus, shows the rhino being made to perform acts like sitting, balancing on a tiny platform and having the trainer climb onto its back while the rhino plods around the ring. The footage sees this massive creature flinch as his master brandishes two whips – clear indication that the whip plays a role in the rhino’s ‘training’. Imagine how much cruel persuasion is required to force this huge wild animal to perform such unnatural acts, and within such a crowded, noisy environment so far from his natural home range.

Mafa is from South Africa, one of many rhinos bred for ‘conservation’ purposes. Other rhino monetisation strategies include trophy hunting and of course the harvesting of rhino horn for sale to people from the Far East, who believe that the horn (made of keratin, the same substance as human hair and nails) will cure all sorts of ailments (including cancer), and uplift their social status. All of these bizarre malpractices are loudly defended by some as being all about saving rhinos from extinction in the wild. Go figure. Apparently having rhinos perform circus tricks is now also OK. We know that the same people also justify the farming of lions under appalling conditions for their bones, taking new-born lion cubs from their mothers and having tourists molest them before they are forced in their adolescent years to walk with the same ilk of tourist – and finally being shot from close range in a small enclosure (‘canned’ hunting). And then there is the display of wild-caught elephants in small cages in China – apparently also OK, as this too is apparently in the name of conservation.

So, what’s next? I do not see any scenario being rejected, so long as someone makes money and the term ‘sustainable utilisation’ can be loosely attached.

White rhino in Russian circus
Screenshot from a video showing Mafa the white rhino in a Russian circus. Source: The Great Moscow State Circus YouTube page

Surely the vast majority in our highly respected and successful wildlife conservation industry needs to say enough is enough? Does this next level abuse of our wildlife not embarrass the industry and make a mockery of its noble cause? Is it not time for industry leaders to stand up and be counted?

If you feel that this next level monetisation of our wildlife is not a true reflection of your industry, stand up and say so. Shout it out from the rooftops! If you feel the opposite, then let’s hear from you. My team will gladly publish your opinions and thoughts.

Rhino with handler standing on it in Russian circus
Screenshot from a video showing Mafa the white rhino in a Russian circus. Source: The Great Moscow State Circus YouTube page

Watch the video below from the The Great Moscow State Circus YouTube page

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I am a proud African and honoured to be CEO of Africa Geographic. My travels in Africa are in search of wilderness, elusive birds and real people with interesting stories. I live in Hoedspruit, next to the Kruger National Park, with my wife Lizz and 2 Jack Russells. When not travelling or working I am usually on my mountain bike somewhere out there. I qualified as a chartered accountant but found my calling sharing Africa's incredibleness with you. My motto is "Live for now, have fun, be good, tread lightly and respect others. And embrace change". Connect with me on LinkedIn

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