Rhinos charm visiting pop stars

2014-04-17 00:00

ANDREW Muir had to scramble two Viet­namese pop stars to safety when two rhinos departed from the script on their anti-poaching rhino experience last weekend.

But the Durban conservationist told The Witness that dozens of students and teachers from Vietnam — a chief importer of poached rhino horn — would come to KwaZulu-Natal from next year for five-day “primitive” trails in the Umfolozi, as a result of the stars’ historic tour.

Muir was acting as guide for Thu Minh and Thanh Bui at Shamwari in the Eastern Cape, during two days of education and filming in the wild to communicate the disaster of rhino horn consumption among thousands of their fans.

He said two rhinos were darted for DNA samples during their tour, and that the singers left the vehicle to walk over and touch the tranquillised animals. But he said two other rhinos suddenly emerged from the nearby bush and they had to scramble back pretty rapidly.

“The whole experience exceeded my expectations as well as theirs. We really underestimate the value of having influential people experiencing the wild on the ground.”

Muir has hosted a number of celebrities on wilderness trails, including Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren.

He said the Viet­namese singers enjoyed “dancing and singing around the campfire” at the lodge, as well as walking excursions in big five territory.

Muir said Thu and Thanh were filmed among the rhinos according to a script provided by anti-poaching NGO Wild Aid, which will launch major YouTube and billboard campaigns based on the event in the next month. Wild Aid has previously used Prince William and Jackie Chan in conservation campaigns.

He said the DNA samples would act as crucial evidence links for prosecution if these rhinos were ever poached.

Thu Minh declared the weekend “a spiritual experience”, and vowed to campaign against the widespread use of traditional potions in her home country.

“I was really impressed at how passionate and involved they were,” said Muir, who is chief executive of the Wilderness Foundation. “It’s clear that role models will play a major role, because many people simply do not realise that their consumption results in tragedy on our side of the ocean, and for all people.”

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