Fundraising blitz to save rhino

2012-05-07 12:02
Johannesburg - The battle against rhino poaching is at a fever pitch in South Africa, the country hardest hit by the scourge, spawning scores of fundraising campaigns running from glamorous to gory.

Carrying a trendy shopping bag or sporting a brightly beaded bracelet have become fashionable ways of flagging awareness of the plight of the rhino, whose horn is used in traditional Asian medicine in the false belief that it has powerful healing properties.

Meanwhile some online campaigns seek donations with visceral images of a hacked rhino lying dead with blood and froth oozing from its eyes and mouth.

The slaughter has reached record levels in South Africa, with more than 200 of the animals killed so far this year after a record 450 in 2011.

Fraudsters

But not everyone is impressed by the seemingly good gestures, with worries about fraudsters and whether donations reach the intended organisations.

"A lot of campaigns have recently surfaced from every direction. Donors should be careful which cause they support," said Pelham Jones, chairperson of the Private Rhino Owners Association, which represents private game reserves.

He said 272 fundraising organisations are now linked to rhino conservation, but he rates only 15% of them as credible.

"Some major corporates have made significant contributions towards various campaigns aimed at saving the rhino," he said. "Other people are just collecting money for their own benefit."

Wildlife organisations and parks are in dire need of resources to improve security and training of anti-poaching personnel and tracker dogs.

Rhino Force - the company founded last year to distribute merchandise like bracelets, scarves, beaded baby rhinos and music CDs - said proceeds of the sales are donated to the Endangered Wildlife Trust, an established charity.

With their heart-tugging slogan, "It's Not a Bracelet... It's Our Heritage," Rhino Force aims to sell one million bracelets throughout the country.

"We can't stand back and allow our heritage to disappear. I believe that each and every one of us can make a difference," Rhino Force founder Joanne Lapin told AFP.

"Each donation matters. I am not doing this for myself," she added. So far, her group has sold 150 000 bracelets, raising about R1.1m ($140 000) for the trust.

Olympic mascot

Highlighting the country's devotion to rhinos, South Africa voted the animal as the official mascot for the national Olympic team.

The tubby beast named Ckukuru, clad in green shorts and a matching T-shirt, has a horn adorned with beads resembling the colours of the Olympic rings and the national flag.

"The fact that the public voted for the rhino as the official mascot shows the level of awareness they have developed around the threat of poaching and the need to stop it," said Vinesh Maharaj, chief financial officer for the national Olympic committee.

Rhino poaching has been woven into the story line of a major soap opera.

A prominent radio station held an on-air public auction for a painting by a member of the Parlotones rock band, fetching R570 000, which organisers say will be used to train tracker dogs.

And one of the country's major banks, Nedbank, offers services that make donations to World Wildlife Fund-South Africa based on a client's financial activity. Since the scheme began in 1990, the bank has donated R115m. The rhino has become the programme's new poster image.

Overall donations to WWF-South Africa jumped nearly 20% last year, to almost R694 000.

Aside from worries about how the money is being used, some are concerned that the campaign might be pushing the price of rhino horns even higher, making the illicit trade even more lucrative.

"We're caught in the spiral of having to take action but then that action is in turn increasing the price of rhino horn and therefore making it more attractive," said Simon Gear of the Lead SA campaign, run by major media.

"In addition to that, I think a lot of the publicity around it has actually publicised quite how valuable these animals are and so criminals before who never thought of poaching are now starting to realise that there is money to be made."

Read more on:    nedbank  |  wwf  |  lead sa  |  rhino poaching
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