Is the rhino worth saving?

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Is the rhino worth saving?

An extract from Clive and Anton Walker's book 'Rhino Revolution: Searching for New Solution'

Jennifer Platt

We have to shift from the negative to the positive – this is what Clive and Anton Walker believe needs to happen to save the rhino. Authors of the bestselling Rhino Keepers, they have come up with a fresh new look at the ongoing crisis. They believe that the problem actually lies in South Africa’s own backyard. This book discusses corruption and the criminal justice system, the need for more community engagement and the costs of protection. It also looks at how far we have come since the rhino wars in the 1980s and the rhino trade debate.
This extract is from Rhino Revolution: Searching for New Solutions by Clive and Anton Walker, published by Jacana Media (R350).Rhino will not be saved in isolation to people, regardless of the fact that we are their biggest threat and, interestingly, their only saviour. Intervention and lateral thinking has to take place, and rather than harping on about the ongoing scenario of bloodied, hornless-faced rhino lying in pools of blood, we have to remain positive. We are caught in a dilemma here of massive proportions, and rhino numbers are declining at a rate above recruitment and no doubt will continue to do so. But at some point the pendulum must swing back to centre – how we get there is the big question.
Some serious introspection needs to be done about where rhino are currently located (by and large in state reserves). The best examples are the Kruger National Park and the Hluhluwe/Imfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal. Both are rated among the best in Africa in terms of habitat; however, they are both located in critical zones. Kruger has a 360-kilometre border with Mozambique from where the bulk of poaching has emanated, as well as a burgeoning human tide on its western boundary where fortunately they have a good number of private reserves within the Greater Kruger acting as a buffer zone. The two KwaZulu-Natal reserves are islands in a sea of humanity boxed in on all sides.To reinforce this view, these two reserves sustained a massacre of disturbing proportions during May 2017 of nine rhino poached in 48 hours, during a full moon. According to Tony Carnie, reporting in the Sunday Times: “The latest killings in the Hluhluwe/Imfolozi Park have pushed the death toll in the province to at least 89 in the first 18 weeks of this year.”It is our considered opinion that it is not sustainable in the long run for each of these areas to maintain the defence that is required to protect large populations of rhino. Even if the authorities do not like or want to admit it, they are not only losing the battle, but also the war.
Across South Africa and the world there has been the most incredible groundswell of support from donors to help ... and yet the killing continues.
Is the rhino worth saving?
Professors Melville and Andrea Saayman of North-West University posed the following question (2016): “Is the rhino worth saving?” Let us start by looking at the South African R10 note. It depicts a white rhinoceros – important enough to place on the country’s currency and a “must-see” member of the Big Five when visiting South Africa.
In 1990 the country had one million visitors, and today that figure is in the region of 10 million. This figure nevertheless needs to recognise that not all these visitors are “tourists” but rather that more than three million so-called “tourists” from neighbouring countries are, according to 2015 data, in fact “on shopping trips”. The top attraction for the genuine tourist is the country’s wildlife, especially the Big Five.
North-West University undertook several surveys to determine the various components that constitute the value of rhino, according to the Saaymans. The surveys were carried out in the Kruger National Park, which has the highest concentration of white rhino in Africa. Tourists were asked how much they were willing to pay to view a rhino. The amount over a three-year period (2010–2013) added up to between US$5.9-million and US$14.9-million. Based on the estimated number of rhino at the time, which was given as 13,000 white rhino, it implies a value between US$150,000 and US$450,000 per animal per year.There are three values in South Africa that can be applied to rhino:
• a non-consumptive value (as above);
• a consumptive value, derived from a legal hunt; and
• one described by the Saaymans as “existence value” (see below).
In the Saaymans’ words: “The existence value is what people assign to a species simply because they derive value from knowing these species are safe for future generations to enjoy.” Therefore this value is the most difficult to determine, since it is not captured or dealt with by one organisation or entity and it involves everyone (locals and foreigners) that assigns a value to the existence of an animal.
This important study reveals an aspect not generally taken into consideration, and when one adds the tens of millions in donations since this war commenced over one species, the figures are astonishing. In summary, according to the Saaymans, the total value of the rhino population in South Africa can be thought of as the sum of these three values and this lies between US$22.7-million and US$41.8-million annually. What we learn from this is there is much more to rhinos than just their horns. It is a very valuable animal that should be protected by all means possible.
I would like to illustrate one private rhino owner’s contribution in the “nonconsumptive” value of rhino, although rhino per se are but one component of the experience. This 3,000-hectare reserve is situated in the Waterberg of Limpopo Province. There are two world-class lodges with a capacity of 40 beds. Horse riding is a principal attraction and the client base is largely from the UK/US. Occupancy amounts to some 6,000 bed nights per year or roughly an occupancy of 80%. General game including buffalo and white rhino can be seen in the reserve. The operation employs about 80 staff, the bulk of whom are from the local community. Rhinos are a key element in the visitors’ experience and they are more than happy to pay the conservation levy that goes towards the security of these animals.
Tessa Baber, the owner of Ant Africa Safaris (a member of the Classic Africa Collection), is the founder of the Save the Waterberg Rhino (STWR), which promotes the conservation of all rhino in the 1,750,000-hectare Waterberg Biosphere.They are actively engaged in promoting awareness of rhino to the local youth, most of whom have never seen a rhino before or been anywhere near a game reserve. STWR is a non-profit organisation, formed a number of years ago after a series of poaching incidents in the area, with the aim of galvanising action on the part of rhino owners to support improved security for not only rhino but the community at large. Three large conservancies have been formed, which have benefitted greatly from this organisation’s assistance. Forewarned is forearmed, and lessons have been learnt from as far afield as Kenya. To win this battle, the fight must be taken to the enemy and the enemy needs to know that if they enter these conservancies, they will be flagged down and followed.
The economic contribution of tourism, game farming and associated activities is considerable to the local communities, by way of job opportunities, training and educational investment in the youth, not least the support of local businesses. Conservation of rhino goes well beyond simply their protection – it extends into general crime prevention with active participation in support of the local police through the Community Police Forum (CPF) and local landowners.
This is but one example of the massive contribution that the private sector makes across South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe as owners of rhinos or as custodians through non-consumptive use (tourism) and through their “existence value”.
So is the rhino worth saving? The short answer is yes, but we need to change the perception that a dead rhino is worth more than a living one. Wildlife is the sovereign jurisdiction of a nation.
About the authorsClive Walker entered the battle for the rhino with the founding of the Endangered Wildlife Trust in 1973. He co-founded the Rhino and Elephant Foundation and the African Rhino Owners Association, and served on the IUCN African Rhino Specialist Group for close on 14 years. He served as a member of the South African Parks Board from 2000 to 2006.Anton Walker, Clive’s son, grew up largely at Lapalala Wilderness, the reserve that was to become an important rhino sanctuary and a world-class environmental school in the bush. Anton joined the permanent staff of the reserve in 1996 and was the general manager of the 45,000-hectare sanctuary until October 2017. He has since taken up the position of director and curator of the Waterberg Living Museum in the Waterberg of Limpopo. His knowledge of both species of rhino is extensive in all areas of management, capture, monitoring, field operations and aerial surveys. His special interest lies in the fossil record of the rhino.

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