Walking in black rhino territory

2010-10-16 00:00

EIGHT adventurous people recently spent five days walking through prime black rhino territory to raise much-needed funds for rhino conservation in South Africa. Rhino Trek South Africa 2010 is a joint effort by international NGO Save the Rhino and a local NGO, the Wildlands Conservation Trust, taking trekkers through the heart of black rhino country in northern Zululand. Save the Rhino International organises adventures like these around the world to raise funds and awareness of the dire situation facing the five species of rhino left on the planet.

The 65 km walk through the Somkhanda and Zululand rhino reserves was the first of its kind in the area. These reserves were identified by the WWF Black Rhino Range Expansion Project as key habitat for black rhino. A series of releases over the past five years has seen the population grow slowly but significantly. The eight trekkers, from the UK and South Africa, saw 16 rhino during their five days of trekking, including two rather curious black rhinos who got them walking a little faster than normal.

THE WALK

The trekkers walked between 12 km and 20 km each day through varied terrain: rocky slopes, open grasslands and bushveld thickets. Think about five days of walking in the wild: no cellphones or laptops, siestas under the shade of acacia trees and nothing but the sounds of nature to lull you to sleep.

The Wildlands logistics team set up camp each night and Somkhanda’s star chef cooked up a storm with braais, potjies, stokbrood and marshmallows. Guides Paul Cryer and Dylan Holmes led the group safely through the bush and shared their stories and knowledge of the wildlife and history of the area.

The reserves’ conservation managers, ecologists and experts joined the group each evening around the fire to discuss some of the challenges facing the rhino populations in South Africa and the intricacies of running a reserve and managing its wildlife populations. Save the Rhino has also supported the anti-poaching units in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi park and the trekkers ended their trip with a visit to the parks to see first-hand how funds have been allocated.

FOR A CAUSE

There are only around 4 200 black rhino left in the world. The species was almost entirely wiped out in the 1970s after a wave of poaching left the numbers low enough to be placed on the Cites list as “critically endangered” — meaning the species’ numbers have decreased or will decrease by 80% in the next three generations.

At the current rate of poaching, the white rhino might follow suit once again (they were also saved from extinction, with numbers as low as 50 only 115 years ago). The death toll stands at 210 rhino poached this year (at time of writing) and there are predictions this will rise to over 300 by the end of the year. Although this does not pose an immediate threat to either population , if it continues at this rate for another few years, it will.

Funds from the Rhino Trek will be used to further support, resource and train the anti-poaching units, monitors and rangers responsible for the protection of the rhino populations in the parks. Although neither Somkhanda nor the Zululand Rhino Reserve has experienced any rhino poaching yet, they know it could be just a matter of time.

For more information or to make a financial contribution to rhino conservation in these reserves, phone Simone Dale at the Wildlands Conservation Trust at 033 343 6380 or e-mail simoned@wildlands.co.za. For more information about the Wildlands Conservation Trust, visit www.wild lands.co.za

THE poaching and illegal trafficking of rhino horn are fuelled by a high demand … a demand for a drug that has been proved scientifically not to work. In a statement issued by Save the Rhino, director Cathy Dean says: “The most absurd thing in the whole sorry saga of rhino poaching is that rhino horn does not actually work!

“It is used by traditional Chinese medicine practitioners supposedly to bring down fevers when an aspirin would do the job — and much more cheaply. Some Vietnamese people apparently believe that rhino horn cures cancer. It doesn’t. It’s made of keratin, the same protein that is found on our hair and nails. If you want to try it out, chew someone else’s toenails: don’t poach a rhino.”

Tackling this demand along with border control, judiciary systems, and local and international policing of these crimes is perhaps beyond the control of the public What is within your control, however, is spreading the word and keeping it in the media – by buying the publications featuring these stories. You can also help by providing financial support for our tireless anti-poaching units and local reserves to resource, up-skill and reward their rangers.

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