What is the problem?
By the end of October 2011, over 350 rhinos had been killed by poachers. Most of these were in the Kruger National Park. Last year, 333 rhinos were killed illegally by poachers, 10 were black rhinos which are critically endangered. This total death count is nearly three times more than in 2009.
Poaching is being carried out by well-organised criminal networks that are linked to drugs, arms and human-trafficking syndicates. These people have high-tech equipment and automatic weapons. This major increase in poaching is due to an increased demand for rhino horn from Asian markets where it is used for various medicinal purposes. It was apparently claimed recently by a Vietnamese politician that rhino horn could cure cancer despite lack of medical evidence. This claim has helped to popularise rhino horn in Asian markets.
Why should we care?
Rhinos are part of a group of animals known as the Big 5. The other animals in the Big 5 are lion, elephant, buffalo and leopard. These animals have always been part of the wildlife found in South Africa and are part of our heritage as South Africans. South Africa would just not be the same if we no longer had rhinos in our game reserves and to show future generations of our children.
Tourists come from all over the world to see the Big 5 animals, which are considered the most exciting and impressive animals to see in the African bush. Game reserves, game lodges and the supporting industries around the game reserves provide jobs and a large amount of revenue for the South African economy. If there were no longer rhinos, this would affect the tourist industry, which would affect job-creation and directly impact many people’s livelihoods.
Rhinos are not only important for creating jobs and generating money in tourism. Many game farmers breed and sell rhinos for hunting. If rhinos are poached, the value of the rhino will become less and farmers will no longer want to farm rhinos which means that jobs in this sector will also be lost as well as much revenue for the South African economy.
In the early 1980’s, the rhino nearly went extinct but thanks to a project called “Operation Rhino” South Africa was able to save rhinos and since then the numbers of rhino have grown. South Africa became famous for saving the rhinos and for supporting other countries by selling rhinos to them in order for those countries to grow their own populations of rhinos. It would be a sad thing to see the victory of the 20th Century reversed!
What can people do to help?
Intelligence through the public is a key source of information for the police and investigators. Not everyone can contribute financially but anyone can contribute information. It’s our collective responsibility to blow the whistle on rhino poaching. Call a hotline if you see something suspicious or have info 0800 205 005 or 0860 10111.
If you do want to contribute financially, do your homework. There are many fraudulent organizations disguised to look like anti-poaching organisations. If you don’t know which organization to donate to directly, RAGE is a good option.
Its not only about donating money. We all have skills and resources to offer.
Who is RAGE?
Rhino Action Group Effort (RAGE) is part of the LeadSA initiative that was set up last year (2010) when concerned groups from both the public and private sectors put their heads together to harness public support against rhino poaching. Whether in the form of skills, resources or financial donations, RAGE channels support to the places where it’s needed most and in this regard is a fully transparent organisation, audited by KPMG. RAGE also performs a function in creating awareness and informing the public about rhino poaching, helping to dispel myths as well as assimilating and redirecting information back to the National Wildlife Crime Reaction Unit. After the Minister of Environmental Affairs’ rhino summit in 2010, RAGE was identified as the civil arm of the National rhino strategy.
Other useful information:
Commercial hunting helped to give an economic value to the rhino without which there would probably not currently be as much as 20% of the approximately 18000 rhino in SA on private land. Many private owners have invested in land and breeding rhinos because of their value and contribute hugely to the conservation of the species.
Many people don’t realise that the trade in rhino horn isn’t legal in China or Vietnam either.
The live import/export of rhinos anywhere is not illegal. Live animals can be sold and transported out of SA according to CITIES regulations (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species). This is not considered trade in horn.
SANParks have kept records of its rhino sales over the last few years. They no longer conduct auctions wherein there is no control over who buys the rhino. Now, buyers have to be carefully checked before a sale is made.
A new DNA database called RHODIS, is helping to keep track of the origin of rhino’s and where they come from so if illegal sales take place, these crimes can be addressed. Horns can also be matched to crime scenes which will result in many more prosecutions.
Asian traditions have been around for 1000’s of years. The perception that rhino horn is effective as medicine needs to change urgently but it’s unlikely to be effective coming from the Western front. South Africa needs to lead by example and we can’t tell the Asains not to poach rhinos if our own people still chop off vulture heads and feet to win the lottery!
The financial value of an animal and its conservation status are linked. Little serious international consideration has until recently, been given to legalising trade to undermine illegal trade and slash the value of stockpiles; meeting annual consumption by sustainable production of horn; promoting trade relationships with and sustainable use practices in consumer states; maximising sustainable economic benefits from rhino to support conservation costs and promote rural development; and increasing the number and diversity of stake-holders in rhino survival. These possibilities are being investigated.
Solving the rhino poaching problem is a complex issue which is multifaceted. It involves security and coordination of animals on the ground as much as legislation and policy on a local and international scale. The laws of a country, the natural history of the animal, the traditional beliefs of people involved and the greed that drives criminal industries all need to be understood and addressed at different levels.
Africa is home to many iconic animals, and people flock from all corners of the globe to see and study these animals in their natural habitat. At first visitors are enthralled by the so called “big 5”, the usual suspects – one could say.
The term big five was first used by President Theodore Rooseveldt who often hunted in southern Africa and as a result grew to respect the dangers the Lion, Cape Buffalo, African Elephant, Leopard and Rhinoceros present to hunters. These animals are either: large, tough, cunning or ferocious, all traits that make them extremely dangerous if pursued with malice intent. In the safari or eco-tourism industry this is often very far from the truth as the big five we view have for many years not been hunted and the aggression that the hunters of old experienced has now turned to acceptance and, I would like to imagine, trust. Thus the
formerly frothing, head swinging, beady eyed buffalo has now become the relaxed ruminant allowing vehicles and their occupants a close view for that perfect out of Africa sunset. Don’t get me wrong, any of the big five can quickly undergo a personality change if mistreated or by getting carelessly close on foot, all I am getting at is that the term big five is often the reason for visitors to Africa arriving with an expectation that is far less than Africa can offer .
A visit to Africa is more spiritual and holistic than many a marketer would sell, simple things like the smell of the soil after the first rain, the colours that no wide angle lens or painters brush has been able to capture and the cool evening breeze that no health
therapist or spa can attempt to recreate. These are the things that combine to make Africa unique. There is also an animal unique to Africa that can capture the imagination of many without adrenaline or blood lust, the Giraffe.
You will often hear guides comment on how their guests have calmed down and relaxed after their first drive.
The highly strung A-type personality can forget his all-conquering ways and just relax as the bush and its rhythms are
not affected by the business world and it stresses. Africa has a way to unknowingly force its visitors into this ancient rhythm, and an animal that in my opinion epitomizes this is the Giraffe.
Giraffe evolved from a smaller horse like animal that frequented the forests. There are only two members of the Giraffe family in existence today, the giraffe and the Okapi that occurs in the rain forests of central Africa and surprisingly was only described in 1901. The Okapi is also very similar looking to the giraffes’ forest dwelling ancestors.
The giraffe is an engineering marvel and has many fascinating traits to deal with it’s at times cumbersome height.
The reason for it evolving into the World’s tallest mammal and largest ruminant is simple, it is socially aloof and likes things to itself, it has thus evolved to be the tallest animal in Africa that has a band of approximately two meters of leaves mostly to itself, mostly only because they share with elephants at this level. Exclusivity comes at a price though, having your head in the clouds means your heart needs to work extremely hard to fuel the brain with blood, a giraffes heart is about 60 centimetres (2 feet) long and can weigh up to ten kilograms. This heart is so powerful that the arteries split into a delta of elastic vessels that bring the blood pressure down before damaging the fine capillaries in the brain. This system is called a Rete mirable and is also found in many other ruminants, another function of the delta of vessels is to transfer heat to intertwined blood vessels not flowing to the brain, a kind of biological radiator.
The Zulu name for Giraffe is ndlulamiti (ndlula-pass; miti-trees) this beautifully descriptive name points out another problem giraffe are faced with. If you are taller than many of the trees your access to shade is limited and overheating of your brain in a sweltering African summer could be fatal. A giraffes ears and head is very light in colour, this reflects a lot of the heat from the sun and acts as a beacon to other
giraffe, both male and female giraffe have “horns”, these horns are an
extension of the scull that gives the cranium more surface area and more
surface area means more heat can be radiated from the brain!
Weight and the distribution thereof is yet another challenge for giraffe, a giraffe bull can weigh more than a ton, and that on stilts. As a result giraffe have only two gaits a sauntering walk and a gallop. When a giraffe is walking the right and left legs work in unison unlike the scissor like action of other ungulates.
This swagger largely contributes to the animals well documented grace. When in a gallop the front legs and back legs kick and push together in long strides that look slow but due to leverage propel the animal forward in excess of 50km/h. It is speculated that the Genus and common English name “Giraffe” was derived from an Arabic word Zirapha that translates to moving with haste or walking swiftly.
The weight of the head and neck has also led so some interesting physical adaptions. The head and vertebrae are very dense and heavy and as you can see in the image, Giraffe have only 7 vertebrae in the neck, the same amount as a human. A giraffe has a very strong tendon that runs below the skin on the back of the neck, this tendon is under constant strain as it short and wide thus being able to hold up the neck and head automatically. A giraffe has to strain to drop its head but the weight of the head and neck put stain on the tendon and keeps the head and neck up an a natural position with little to no energy being wasted.
Giraffe have phenomenal eyesight, together with their height this makes them the periscopes of the bushveld, many animals such as Impala and Zebra will associate with giraffe as they rely on the giraffe to spot predators at a distance. Rangers often also use giraffe as sentries as a group of giraffe staring intently in the same direction is often and indication of the whereabouts of a predator.
There is actually and Egyptian hieroglyph that depicts a giraffe, it is said to signify a prophecy or future vision, this most probably due to the animals astounding eyesight.
Inyati camp and the surrounding area is a preferred winter feeding ground for giraffe. The Sand River is one of the few rivers in the Greater Kruger National Park to hold water throughout the year and trees with deep tap root systems such as Knob-Thorns and Bush-willows bear green leaves well into late winter. A journey of about 16 bulls is often seen on the clearings in front of camp in the afternoons. Groups of cows and their calves are often a highlight of guided walks as giraffe will allow you
surprisingly close if approached correctly. These graceful turrets often complete a day’s game viewing.