UK could save rhino right now, says Kevin Pietersen
Former cricketer also takes a swing at virtue-signalling celebrities who exploit poverty
The UK government could write a cheque now and save the rhino from extinction, cricket star Kevin Pietersen has said as he lambasts celebrities who use poverty to virtue signal.
The former England captain, who lives part time on an SA rhino ranch, said that if no action is taken before 2025, the animal will become extinct.
“The dollar and the pound goes so far here. It would cost £7.5m to save the species and protect 70% of the rhino population,” he said.
“The UK government could write that cheque right away and save the species.”
He thinks this would be a popular endeavour, one perhaps supported by the queen, who he has “chatted with” while collecting his MBE. “She loves Africa so much,” Pietersen said.
The rhino is, the batsman thinks, much more important to save than even Notre Dame. “If you think of how much was raised for Notre Dame [then £7.5m is] such a small number. You can rebuild a building but you can’t bring a species back.”
While he is best known for his astonishing sporting skills, the South African now pours his passion into saving the rhino, an animal he loves.
He goes out whenever he can with an anti-poaching team in a bid to save individual creatures before they are hacked to death and their horn – which is worth more on the black market than cocaine – stolen.
He said: “It annoys me when you see celebrities sitting around and using opportunities to grow their profiles and using poverty-stricken areas for the feel-good factor.
“I am incredibly close and hands-on with the action. It’s incredibly dangerous; there are armed conflicts every single week. My friends who are rangers have to shoot people and have been shot at. It’s a full-on war.”
The UK may seem far-removed from the bloody rhino trade, which is making swift inroads into the numbers of the animal. However, the government allows British citizens to profit from killing rhinos, by allowing the import of bones, skins and heads of the animals into the country.
More than 150 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion to ban the import of trophies from endangered animals, including lions, cheetahs, elephants and rhinos.
Pietersen also believes environment secretary Michael Gove should outlaw this: “I 100% agree with the campaign because people are killing animals illegally for their own wealth and it’s supporting a dangerous and detrimental industry. The UK should not be supporting that.”
Trophy hunting accounts for hundreds of endangered animal deaths every year, many at the hands of Britons.
On a new BBC Five Live podcast, the cricketer-turned-conservationist meets a British trophy hunter.
He said trophy hunters are “scumbags”, adding: “I don’t want to give everything away in this interview, but it’s quite a fascinating part of the series interviewing somebody who wakes up with the ambition to kill animals and calls themselves a conservationist. It’s quite horrific.”
It is possible to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds to shoot a critically endangered black rhino through a “safari company”. Pietersen believes such “cowardly and despicable” trophy hunting should be banned immediately.
“If you look at these hunting institutions, it’s frightening what you can kill. I don’t like people taking photos next to a lion, elephant, leopard and posting it online,” he said.
“I don’t wake up in the morning thinking: ‘I want to kill a leopard’. If you want to kill a leopard I will buy you the knife and you can walk around my land and we will see who wins.”
Despite the stench of butchered rhinos (“You will never forget the smell”) and the danger he encounters when battling poachers, Pietersen said he has finally found an endeavour he loves – as well as peace.
"The most amazing thing about this is I was caught up in a world of ego, arrogance, bravado, bullshit, and this is the most peaceful, most wonderful place where all that kind of stuff just doesn't exist.
“I believe everything happens for a reason. I’ve been through tough times in my career but we wouldn’t be in this position otherwise. Without the publicity I wouldn’t be able to use it for the rhinos.
“An elephant doesn’t know how many Test runs I got, and an elephant and a rhino don’t know that you’re trying to protect them and they’ll kill you if you do something wrong. You can’t pretend around them. I spent a lot of time pretending in my old job.”
Gove said: “Kevin Pietersen is a tireless campaigner for rhinos. His personal knowledge and experience on this issue is crucial to the debate on trophy hunting and I’d like to thank him for being such a spirited champion of change, both in the UK and around the globe.“Our Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund has supported 24 projects across Africa and Asia, designed to help rhinos and other species. These projects have helped to provide people with sustainable livelihoods and take tougher action on enforcement so we can safeguard these magnificent animals. Through our 25 Year Environment Plan we will continue to protect and enhance wildlife, here and abroad, demonstrating the UK’s global leadership on these issues.”– Telegraph Media Group Limited (2019)