The state of our media always surprises me, the more shocking the better; it seems there is a physiological, psychological and evolutionary cause behind the proclivity for bad news. I was reminded of this circumstance when reading Poached by Dr. William Fowlds, recommended university reading dealing with the plight of the endangered rhino – a “horror movie”. Is this type of publicity necessary? The world is full of tragedy and serving it up on a silver platter seems to be Neanderthal - according to some psychologists and neuroscientists it is; hard wired into our brains from the hunter gatherer times of so long ago. Nevertheless, it has served its purpose, the General Joe is definitely informed about the plight of the world’s rhino.
Perhaps focusing on the positive aspects of a similar situation - the plight of the African elephant - will have a greater impact on rhino conservation efforts: increasing elephant populations in countries of Southern Africa have been attributed to conservation strategies which provide economic incentives to local communities, creating ownership and the resultant desire to protect one's investment. This trend continues to this day; revenue generated from the sale and use of elephant products supports local communities and conservation efforts alike. Of course, as always, there is a flip side, here it is the opportunity for illegal ivory to enter the market and thus impact on elephant populations in countries where conservation efforts are not as robust, and indeed it has – empirical evidence indicates the combined efforts of numerous conservation organisations has resulted in the increased trade of poached ivory. In fact, 2011 and 2012 shows the highest numbers since monitoring began more than a decade ago, our best efforts have proven to protect some, but not all elephants; and so we learn and continue to improve on strategies that have failed, to the best of our abilities.
Countries that have shown the ability to protect one species should be given the opportunity to do the same for another: South Africa has a proven and positive track record in conservation efforts and given the finance and opportunity will most probably improve on the endangered status of the rhino. Similarly, rhino populations will benefit just as the African elephant has.
Minister Molewa is intent on discussing the legalisation of trade in rhino horn at the next CITES meeting in 2016, a decision based on recognising the contribution of biodiversity to South Africa’s sustainable development strategies. Additionally, the intended sale of stockpiles of rhino horn is on the agenda and will potentially generate a billion rand in revenue, resulting in sought after funding for continued and increased conservation efforts. I believe this is a step in the right direction and will assist in moving us, and the rhino, towards a more equitable future.
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