The future of the beleaguered rhino

2012-08-01 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

The Rhino Keepers

Clive and Anton Walker

Published by Jacana

IF any animal has come to symbolise the vulnerability, fluctuating fortunes, co-dependence and appalling decline of our wildlife, it must surely be the rhino.

Regarded as stupid, brutish and prehistoric by the white hunters of the 18th and 19th centuries, they were slaughtered in such vast numbers that by the early 1900s both the black and white rhino had been virtually exterminated from Cape Town to the Limpopo.

The establishment of numerous game reserves and protected wildlife areas, restrictions on hunting, private-sector participation and the dedicated work of various conservation agencies — of which the old Natal Parks Board was a shining example — and some far-sighted individuals led to a remarkable recovery in rhino populations, in South Africa at least, although poaching and habitat loss continued to be an ongoing problem.

Unfortunately, having been miraculously pulled back from the brink of extinction, the rhino once again finds itself under renewed threat from a new breed of poachers, who are better armed, better trained and better funded than any who have gone before. With the price of rhino horn now somewhere in the region of $60 000 per kilogram, the stakes are indeed very high.

The statistics make chilling reading. Although only 120 rhinos were poached in South Africa from 2000 to 2007, a new round of killings began in 2008, with 83 deaths. The killing escalated to 122 deaths in 2009 and 333 deaths in 2010. The figure for 2011 soared to 448. If the current, frightening, trend continues the prospects for the rhinos continued survival are indeed bleak.

A much respected wildlife conservationist, who has been involved with rhino for close on 40-years, author Clive Walker (with his son, Anton) is well-positioned to write the story of the animal.

He has obviously done his homework well, and there is some fascinating stuff in the early chapters about whether the rhino is indeed the mythical unicorn of early folklore, but all this merely serves as a prelude to the main thrust of the book — the huge threat posed to the animal by the illicit international trade in rhino products and how best to deal with it.

Highly readable, thoroughly researched and coming at a time when the dark clouds are once again gathering force, The Rhino Keepers provides a vital background to any discussion involving the future of this beleaguered species.

Anthony Stidolph

 

THERE will be a book signing at Exclusive Books in the Liberty Midlands Mall today from 5 pm to 7 pm, when Clive Walker, author of The Rhino Keepers, will meet and talk to readers.

Walker is one of southern Africa’s most respected conservationists, as well as being a wildlife artist, and The Rhino Keepers, which he co-authored with his son, Anton, is reviewed here.

It is a book that will interest anyone who has concerns over the senseless slaughter of these magnificent animals.

A percentage of the proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to Waterberg Museum Foundation’s Rhino Programme.

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