Communities and Conservation in South Africa
During 2014, in South Africa alone a record 1,215 rhinos were killed by poachers, that’s one every eight hours. www.savetherhino.org
I find this statistic staggering. Over the years of returning to South Africa, and more recently, through my small efforts to generate sustainable employment opportunities for Zulus, I’ve always been struck by the fine balance between conserving wildlife and its unique wild places; its extraordinary natural heritage; with the growing number of local people needing the natural resources to survive, compounded by the grave external threats posed by highly organized, international poaching on a criminal scale.
The rates at which rhino and elephants are dwindling in South Africa is alarming.
We can see rhino deaths overtaking births in 2016-2018, meaning rhinos could go extinct in the very near future. www.savetherhino.org
An unusual link between Essex and SA
Our family moved to Essex last year, and coincidentally whilst networking locally, I met Debbie, the charismatic Development Manager of the Wilderness Foundation. The Wilderness Foundation was founded by one of the world’s leading conservationists, South African, Dr Ian Player who saved the white rhino from extinction. He is also the author of one of my favourite books, lent to me by a close South African friend: ‘Zulu Wilderness’ (a book I highly recommend if you want to reminisce about Africa and immerse yourself in the intoxicating bush of KwaZulu Natal! Gary Player, widely regarded as one of the greatest golfers of all time, is Ian Player’s younger brother.) Given that I’m trying in my small way to created sustainable jobs in Natal and that I’m sensitive to the conservation/community balance in South Africa, and that I also adhere to the The Wilderness Foundation’s philosophy that access to nature and wilderness is key to bringing up healthy, well-adjusted young people in SA and the UK. (I’m not saying that I’m well-adjusted (?!), but I spent my youth either in a stable or charging across fields and forests on horses and that calmed me down! Now with finite time, I find charging on foot, across fields and through woods nearly, (but not quite) as relaxing, nourishing and restorative to the old mind and body.) So it was quite bizarre to find that part of Dr Player’s legacy, founded out in the Natalian bush where I spent my childhood years, was based up the road, a mere 10 miles from our new home in Essex. Since meeting Debbie, I have enjoyed fundraising for the Wilderness Foundation by giving a percentage of Zulucow’s proceeds to them, and plan to do more in the future.)
In the 1950s, Dr Player and his great friend: Magqubu Ntombela, (a charismatic Zulu ranger) identified the importance of the African wilderness in KwaZulu Natal. They fought to maintain the Imfolozi Game Reserve from the threat of poachers; hungry Zulus displaced by the government’s land policy; and white farmers, who had been invited by the government to graze their cattle on the reserve. Player saved the game park and the white rhino from extinction in South Africa and critically established an international rhino gene pool. He sadly died last year, but his legacy carries on and there is a ray of hope as today the profile of the rhino’s plight is raised by royal involvement.
Prince Harry’s ‘Hope’ – (The Recovering Rhino)
Prince Harry is currently in Southern Africa, seeing first hand the importance of linking the long-term future of Africa’s wildlife with the sustainable development of the communities who live alongside it. (He’s working according to a programme devised by conservation experts: The Zoological Society of London.)
Prince Harry is working with rangers responding to poaching attacks on elephant and rhino and with leading vets such as my husband’s good friend and fellow veterinarian: Dr William Fowlds, who are trying to save rhinos such as “Hope’ who had her horn and much of her face hacked off in a savage attack, earlier this year.
“Hope” – Fearless rhino makes it through third vital procedure – 16th June 2015
Through the work that Saving the Survivors does, this rhino, ‘Hope’, is giving victims of poaching a voice which cries out to the world for our help. She is becoming a living symbol of this poaching crisis, and an inspirational example of the fight for survival against seemingly insurmountable odds. Her struggle to claim back her life and her dignity must become our fight to change human behaviour and restore value and respect and care for all living things. – Dr Will Fowlds ‘Saving The Survivors’
The Illegal Trade in Rhino Horn
“The poaching is predominantly driven by the illegal trade in rhino horn. Globalisation and economic growth has made it easier to establish illegal trading routes. The current poaching crisis is attributed to the growing demand for rhino horn in Asian countries, mainly Vietnam and China. Vietnam has been identified as the largest user-country of rhino horn. Although rhino horn has no scientific medical benefits, consumers are using it to treat a wide range of conditions, from cancer to hangovers, and due to its high value it is now also used as a status symbol by wealthy individuals. The high price fetched for the horn has attracted the involvement of ruthless criminal syndicates who use high-tech equipment to track down and kill the rhinos.” www.savetherhino.org
There is a ray of hope, thanks to ambassadors such as Prince William, the Royal Patron of Tusk . Following his impassioned plea to President Obama to stamp out the illegal wildlife trafficking trade last year, The US president, has declared war on wildlife traffickers; pressure will be brought on Asian countries, particularly China and Vietnam. US intelligence agencies, are now involved in targeting the £15 billion-a-year black market.
I really hope global players like Princes Harry and William, and Barack Obama have an impact soon in helping to restore that fine balance between wildlife conservation and sustainable rural development in South Africa and in so doing save the rhino from extinction.
Over to you
What do you think? I’d love to hear your experience and/or thoughts on the the grave threats posed by poaching, and the impact on the African wilderness? Have you worked in Africa on game reserves? Do you have any thoughts on how the situation can be resolved? I’d be intrigued to hear your experiences of the link between conservation and communities. Please do add your comments below.
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