I wondered how it got to this. The giant of grey lay panting and snorting on the ground, in the midst of vegetation he flatted as he went down, a young bull, still to reach his prime. He was recently chased away by his mother, forced to find his own way in this rhino-world – a changed world, a world where his survival was far less likely. He was already being hunted for his horn, and his survival instincts were pitted against Man, for Man was employing his finest technology in combination with an age-old savagery, honed by greed. It was a one-sided battle.
Yet, I look at the men and women about me. Bush people – conservationists to the core, yet ordinary people. I am proud to be a part of them. A rhino necklace flashes; I notice a Stop-Rhino-Poaching bracelet. Everyone doing what they can to stop the senseless slaughter of the magnificent animal at our feet.
We work together, people from all walks of life. The SANParks Conservation Manager, Vet and rangers are in their element – they work quietly and quickly effecting interventions which will ensure that this individual can be monitored for his safety - a highly efficient team, intent on completing their work here and moving on to the next rhino. As SANParks Honorary Rangers, we are proud to be a part of this operation, one which will assist SANParks in their efforts to protect the Black Rhino.
The Eastern Cape sun is warm on my back. We work in an area first occupied by the San – a noble People who understood the need to be in harmony with nature, a people who understood that the various elements of the environment are interdependent, a people who killed to eat only. That was then. How is it that we have regressed as we have progressed?
Help is needed to roll this powerful creature on to his stomach. It takes four of us to shift his mighty weight. His skin is softer than I expected. Almost a velvety feel to it, but there is no questioning the toughness of this thick leather hide. He belongs to the sub-species, Diceros bicornis bicornis which is recognised as critically endangered - few exist in the wild.
I see the look on their sweating faces – there is an intensity which comes from performing a role which we instinctively know is vital. Despite the activity, there is a reverent silence about us. We are bound by a pact of discretion. What we are doing must not get out, for behind every bush lies a potential poacher, willing to sell his soul to an unknown buyer, for the promise of a quick buck. Africa's children giving our riches to those across the world for their amusement, in an ironic twist, the Cradle of Mankind betraying her birth right.
I recall the well-worn, emotive words of Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”. I look around at these men and women about me. These are good men and women. How fortunate we are that there are good men and women in South African companies who are willing to make financial contributions to protect our heritage. Unitrans is such a company. Their enthusiastic contribution to the SANParks Honorary Rangers has indelibly impacted on the anti-rhino poaching focus of SANParks in this critical region, for which we are all extremely grateful.
The young bull staggers to his feet under the watchful eye of the hovering chopper. Groggy and confused, the ground party has already cleared the area ensuring that they don’t become the victim of misguided anger. He moves away, seeking thick bush, his drive for preservation fighting to dominate the effects of the lingering anaesthetic. The smell of man is all about – he can’t see them but he pushes through the bush to get far away from the threat. He is fortunate that this encounter with Man, was a friendly one.
As he trots through the hot African bush, puffs of dust around his ankles, we know that this has been a job well done. There is something symbolic about this prehistoric creature - he represents the environment as old as time - surely, if we cannot protect the rhino, we cannot protect what he represents.
Where there's a will, there's a way.