Rhinos are near and dear to my heart. They are part of some of my earliest memories, when the family went on holiday to Hluhluwe Game Reserve in what is now called Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. We were regaled with stories of our grandfather being chased by a rhino, and surviving. Then later in my life, on another family adventure out in the bush with a park ranger, coming upon a grazing black rhino and everyone freezing in place. We all eyed the nearest thorn trees which we would try to climb if the animal decided to charge! If my memory serves me correctly, my brother-in-law had already made it up into the top branches. Much to his chagrin, and subjected to a lot of ribbing, he sheepishly climbed down as the rhino ignored us and ambled away.
Time to Avert a Tragedy
What a tragedy it will be if my two little grandchildren won’t have the opportunity to visit a game reserve and experience the wild life and create memories like I was fortunate enough to do.
But there is some good peeking above the horizon.
A meeting between South African officials and representatives from Viet Nam and China has been arranged to address the growing demand for rhino horn in Asia, where it is used in traditional medicine.
“Asian and African governments must work together to disrupt trade chains and to bring wildlife criminals to justice,” said Dr. Morné du Plessis, CEO of WWF-South Africa. “Demand for rhino horn and elephant ivory is threatening to destroy a large part Africa’s natural heritage. We want to see illegal markets for these products in Asia shut down for good.”
“Rangers are putting their lives on the line to protect these animals from poachers and traders who are motivated only by greed,” WWF’s African Rhino Programme Coordinator Dr. Joseph Okori said. “We salute all those working tirelessly to secure a future for rhinos, and we call on government leaders in Vietnam and China to do their part.”
In another positive area, more arrests are being made daily, with much heavier penalties and longer sentences being imposed. But the rhino guardians are still sadly outnumbered – and out-gunned by the syndicates that run the poaching operations.
In an unprecedented move recently, WWF and the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) formed a partnership with 50 African religious representatives from different faiths and countries who have come together to call for the end of illegal wildlife trade.
“Halting wildlife trade is a moral issue,” says Dekila Chungyalpa, WWF’s Sacred Earth program director. “Faith leaders are the backbone of local communities, providing lessons and guidance that shape how people live their lives. Having religious leaders from all major faiths come together to call for the protection of wildlife on religious grounds and urge their congregations to view the slaughter of elephants and rhinos in Africa as a serious crime may turn the tide of the disaster we face today.”
Wildlife poaching is a highly organized crime backed by international syndicates who also back other crimes such as gun and drug trafficking. The victims of illegal wildlife trade include not only rhinos and elephants but also rangers and local communities. At a wider scale, we should recognize that illegal wildlife trade undermines social stability and peace-keeping efforts in Africa,” said Chungyalpa.
“ARC has been working with religions over the past 20 years to help them explore how to take real action to protect wildlife. Religious leaders are seeing wanton destruction of the great species (and the habitat that nurtures them) as an attack on both creation and the creator. This is a really welcome initiative coming from Africa,” said ARC Secretary-General, Martin Palmer.