Written and photographed by: Anja Riise
On Saturday, 24th September, Madikwe Game Reserve hosted its second annual Rhino Walk to raise awareness for the plight of the species and to gather funds to support their conservation and protection. Last year, 1,175 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone, mostly for the alleged medicinal properties of their horns.
Their horns are thought to cure anything from a common cold to cancer, as well as enhancing sexual performance. Since the horns are made up of the same material as fingernails and hair, this belief is of course utter nonsense, something which has been proven scientifically a long time ago. However, tradition is difficult to crush and if something is expensive, it also becomes a status symbol and measure of wealth.
As it stands now, there will be no rhinos left in the wild as the next generation of young South Africans reach adulthood. Telling your future grandchildren that you once saw these magnificent creatures on a game drive in the African bush might sound as foreign to them as it would have for us if our grandparents had said they once saw dinosaurs roaming the plains.
Because of these worrying facts, Madikwe now holds their annual Rhino Walk. This year, not only lodge guests and staff took part in the event, but also school children from the surrounding communities.
By including local children in raising awareness for this cause, it helps nearby communities get involved and show their support. With that, it is more difficult for poachers to hide in their midst without being reported. There are many dedicated and passionate people working hard to protect the rhinos all around the continent, putting their lives on the line each time they go to work. They have already earned our respect, however they also need our support both economically as well as by helping to report any suspect vehicles, people and behaviour.
In the early morning, many of the field guides pulled up at the starting point of the walk with their guests. While the usual morning coffee and rusk break was taking place, guests got the chance to have a look at some of the guides’ posters and artwork that had been crafted to raise awareness about, not only the rhinos, but also other threatened species.
Some of the guides’ creative artwork made out of rhino dung, scrap metal and bottle caps, was auctioned out at the end of the event, securing some added revenue for the cause.
At 9am the walk commenced, with some of the reserve rangers leading the 5km trek. Though the theme of the day and the reason for the walk may have been a somber one, the atmosphere was still bright and hopeful.
While the walkers were out, a lot of activity was happening behind the scenes with the different lodges preparing delicious treats for their return. This was of course a welcome sight at the end of the walk and the chefs quickly became the stars of the fair. Our head chef Virginia’s deconstructed bobotie, orange-poached eggs, date balls and rhino biscuits at Jaci’s Lodges‘ table swiftly made their way off the trays, as did the kebabs, ribs and wors rolls at the other lodges’ stalls.
The rangers, who are the unsung heroes in the struggle against poaching, made it clear that you don’t want to be on the receiving end of their efforts in the bush. In a cloud of dust and thunder, they burst into action, showing off their skills in a short but assertive shooting session, enough of a deterrent for anyone with devious plans. With the sound of the rounds echoing out over the valley, the day was rounded up as the heat settled upon us.
All the attention, support and good will on this day will hopefully be carried forward and make a difference for the future of rhinos. There is still time to turn things around if we take action, and this is the message we were left with. We have the chance to save a species from extinction and make the rhino a success story yet again. South Africa was very much involved in saving the white rhino from extinction only in the last century and if we join forces, it can definitely be done once more.