Rhino conservationists fighting ‘dark forces’

2011-06-22 00:00

THE screams of agony of South Africa’s white rhinos, which are coming under serious attack from poachers, should reach out into the hearts of all of us.

Rhino have a very plaintive cry and once you’ve heard it you will never forget it.

These were the words yesterday of conservationist Dr Ian Player, who was the driving force behind saving the white rhino from extinction and brought their numbers from a mere 50 in KwaZulu-Natal in 1953 to more than 20 000 in the next two decades.

Player expressed despair at the “catastrophic killing” of rhinos and the “horrendous” cruelty of poachers who chop out their horns while the animals are still alive. But he said he remains optimistic about their future because of the ongoing work of conservationists.

He said conservationists have a duty to ensure that this prehistoric species continues to exist for the benefit of our children, despite the “dark forces” that threaten to overwhelm them.

Due to the efforts of Player and his colleagues, by the 1970s the white rhino population in KZN was so healthy that relocation was possible and they were exported to safari parks in America as “insurance”.

Player was a guest speaker at a breakfast conference held jointly by the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (EKZNW) in Durban yesterday.

The conservation body was handed a cheque for R100 000 by anti-poaching sponsors Mondi and Waltons, which will be used to buy much-needed equipment to wage war on poachers. EKZNW chief executive Bandile Mkhize disclosed at the breakfast that the organisation is extremely concerned about the escalating threat to both the black and white rhino populations in KZN.

He said he had to make last- minute changes to his speech because two more rhinos were killed by poachers and had their horns removed at Ndumo game reserve at the weekend, bringing the total number killed by poachers in this province so far this year to 16.

Mkhize said the sophistication of today’s poaching syndicates, which export rhino horn to the Far East, is worrying.

“It is clear that we have to up our game to be one step ahead of these syndicates, which is not easy.”

Mkhize said that if the present trend continues, 442 rhinos will have been lost to poachers by the end of this year.

The national figure stands at 333, with the most rhinos falling to poachers in Kruger National Park, which recently called in the army to patrol its borders.

Mkhize said these figures represent only the number of rhinos known to have been poached, but many more might have been killed.

Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Andrew Layman highlighted the value of the tourism industry to South Africa and the drawcard of the “big five”.

“What if the big five were only the big four? Think what kind of competitive tourism edge this country would lose in that event? … that is why rhino poaching is a crisis in terms of this country’s economy.”

He added that one of the major benefits of the eco-tourism industry is the creation of jobs in rural areas.

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