Roughly every 11hours in South Africa, a rhino is poached for their horn. In 2012, 668 rhinos were illegally killed and in 2013 alone, the figure is already on 232. At this rate it is predicted that approximately 900 will be poached by the end of the year. Rhino poaching in South Africa has been declared a war. Just recently a news article reported that a political party has gone on to say that as a country South Africa should declare rhino poaching “a national disaster.” On Tuesday April 16th, Mike, Rick, Lani and myself, met up with Mark Boucher, SAB representatives and other guests to get involved in efforts to save our precious rhinos.
Retired South African cricketer, Mark Boucher joined forces with South African Brewery (SAB) to create the Non-Profit Company (NPC) called “Our Rhinos In Safe Hands.” The NPC aims to raise enough funds to register every South African rhino on a DNA database. Collecting the DNA will assist law enforcements in tracking down poachers and syndicates and allow cases against the criminals to be successfully conclusive. It would be our privilege to join and assist the process of collecting three rhinos DNA on a selected reserve outside Cape Town over the next day.
As the sun slid below the rolling hills we stood in awe of a herd of elephant moving in the valley below us. It was magnificent to be out in such a unique environment and as we watched three Cape white lions traverse a mountain in the distance we discussed the urgency to really get involved and do something about the fact that one of Africa's Big 5 animals faces a serious threat.
Before dinner we were briefed by the game rangers and vet concerning the process of safely darting and collecting DNA samples of an animal that weighs close to 2tons! Our jobs were allocated. These included recording readings, covering the rhinos eyes, inserting the thermometer, drilling the horn to insert the microchip, collecting the ear clippings, pulling a hair follicle from the tail, monitor breathing and collecting blood. We watched the stars dance across the African sky before heading to bed filled with excitement for the day ahead.
It was an early start the next day and as the sun rose we stood over looking three rhino enjoy their breakfast – what a beautiful sight. Sunrise also signalled that the excitement for the day would begin. Murray Stokoe, the vet, identified the first rhino from the chopper and darted it with 0.4ml of the anesthetizing drug, M99. Not long after it had been darted the rhino began to stumble and eventually collapsed. Murray was there right away to make sure the rhino was fine and to inject a second drug to stabilize its breathing.
Once we got the “okay” we rushed towards the fallen rhino and began working. The process was efficient and professional. The rhinos safety was always prioritised and each step was calmly explained by the game rangers as we worked. Everyone completed their task with precision and care and as we shuffled around this huge creature it was sad to see how vulnerable they were. Majestic strength and unstoppable power are what I think of when I think of a rhino, yet with just one dart of a concentrated liquid it lay there motionless and undignified. This just shockingly proved what an unfair advantage we as humans have over animals.
After snapping a few pictures we made our way back to the safety of the vehicles and the “wake-up drug” was injected. Within minutes the rhino lifted to its feet and was off as if nothing had happened. As I watched this enormous, gallant animal move away and disappear into the colours of the bush, the idea that anyone could possibly hurt them or the thought that my children may never see a rhino broke my heart.
Rhino horn is made up a protein called keratin, the same substance that our nails are made of. Although not scientifically proven, it is believed that rhino horn contains medical value and is highly prized in traditional Asian medicine for the treatment of varying illnesses. In 2009 a ludicrous statement was made by the president of Vietnam claiming that rhino horn cures cancer and demand for rhino horn escalated. Trading rhino horn became illegal in South Africa in 1970 however the impeccably organised poaching syndicates have continued to sell rhino horn on the black market.
By midday we had completed our three rhinos and enjoyed a beautiful sighting of two lionesses – what an incredible morning, what an incredible experience! Physically getting our hands dirty and taking responsibility for these animals has undoubtedly given us a personal connection to the cause and intensified our urge to do something to protect them. We will continue to raise awareness about rhino poaching in South Africa and we will do what we can to raise funds for the cause. This is a war that we will not lose.