Rhino rancher calls on celebs to help save his herd from death
His own funds exhausted, SA farmer is forced to sell his rhinos, which will almost certainly end up being legally shot
In North West, John Hume looks after more rhinos than anyone else in the world. But the SA farmer fears his vast herd of endangered animals is at risk of being culled because he is running out of cash.
Last week, he wrote to MacKenzie Bezos, the estranged wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, appealing for money.
“Her husband is the richest man in the world and when she is divorced she will have plenty, and she seems to be a decent person. Maybe she will help save our rhinos,” said Hume, 77, who has already spent the £115m fortune he made from his holiday timeshare business on rhinos.
After a successful career, Hume retired to the bushveld in 1992 where he bought the 20,000-acre Buffalo Dream Ranch estate. He started with two rhinos that came with the land.
“They were the wildlife underdogs and I fell for them,” he says. The number has swelled to his present herd of 1,650 white rhinos, which includes 300 pregnant animals as well as 17 calves hand reared on foal milk.
Hume’s flat, dry farm, which is three hours’ drive southwest of Johannesburg, only has a few thorn trees. More would provide cover for poachers.
There is not enough grass to support the huge animals because of recent droughts, so each adult rhino eats about 22kg of dried food a day and he has to employ about 100 people.
His radar-driven security system has worked well, and he has not lost a single rhino to poachers in two years – but it has also doubled his costs to more than £250,000 a year.
Hume’s success comes at a time when one rhino is killed every eight hours in SA.
He has long been an advocate of legalising the rhino horn trade. Domestic horn trading was decriminalised in 2013 after a 2009 ban was overturned, but by the time it was made legal South Africans had lost the taste for it thanks to decades of anti-horn messaging.
Trading rhino horn internationally remains illegal, cutting off Hume’s access to the lucrative Asian market. Rhino horn is the most expensive item by weight on the black market, worth more than gold or cocaine. Some high-profile conservationists argue that overturning the ban would stop poaching, and enable the horn to be harvested without killing the rhino.
By 2009, Hume was in too deep to simply close the farm. The domestic horn ban had limited his income and the increasing cost of anti-poaching security squeezed him further.
He says his finances are so precarious he is staging SA’s first rhino auction, probably this month, where he hopes to get up to £25,000 per animal.
“It breaks my heart. We will get shit prices, and this will really hit me, as we will sell some rhinos with horns, and those who buy will then be able to get a permit for hunters to legally shoot them. But we can’t sell the tons of rhino horns we have in stock.”
No rich pickings
Hume began asking wealthy celebrities for help late in 2018. He has written to a host of prominent people with SA connections, including Tesla founder Elon Musk, who was born and brought up in the country, Richard Branson, who has a wine farm in the Western Cape, and Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex.
Hume said that before he began his letter-writing campaign he checked the Forbes rich list, which told him there are 2,125 American billionaires worldwide and 680 billionaires who live in the US.
“Just one of them would sort this out. We have not had one reply, but are still trying. I am not blaming people like Prince Harry; he probably gets a 1,000 letters like mine a day. But what about the wildlife organisations? They receive millions, and not one of them has donated a cent.
At a wildlife function in Pretoria last week, George Hughes, one of SA’s leading conservationists, told guests that “John Hume deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for what he has done for rhinos”.
The event was hosted by the Swaziland government, which is promoting the legal sale of rhino horns. Along with several other Southern African countries, it will ask members of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to lift the ban on legal trade in rhino horn when they meet in Sri Lanka in May.
A study of the reasons Vietnamese buy illegal rhino horn found it was a “gesture to console terminally ill family members”, Mary Nielsen, of the University of Copenhagen, said recently.
Chinese traditional healers have used rhino horn for certain medications for thousands of years.
SA has about 15,000 rhinos and loses more than 1,000 to poachers every year.
– © The Daily Telegraph