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    The Real Plight of the Black Rhino and The Africa You Don’t See

     

    January 23, 2014
    By Nancy Daniels

     

    Part 1

    I have done a lot of research both for and against Trophy Hunting as conservation. I believed that I was impartial and knowledgeable about both sides of the debate. There is a plethora of information out there both positive and negative towards it and it is not an easy subject to discuss for most people due to the deeply entrenched emotion that permeates from both sides of the issue was well as the logical conclusion that you can’t kill something in order to save it.

    I have been requesting data since I started this trek. My research found only inconsistencies and a lot of mixed/outdated information.  We were told to rely on experts, but there are many experts that are in disagreement. It makes is perfect pickings for finding information to suit your needs.

    I found enough data and resource material that can easily be manipulated to make a point and gives the ability to rebut any points made by someone with an opposing view. I know for myself that I was guilty of pushing aside information in lieu of something that served my purpose better and was able to help me win arguments and build a case against Trophy Hunting. I have been a strong proponent for animal welfare and environmental issues for close to 20 years. I still hold strong to the belief that the senseless hunting of threatened and endangered species for Trophy Hunting is wrong. The key word here is senseless.

    I had discussions with sanctuaries as well as those that are just trying to live their lives in Southern Africa. I believed what I was hearing to be the truth... and it was.  It was their true perception and totally valid. It is valid from their perceptions, just as we are from our own. What I failed to do, until yesterday was to put all the pieces of the puzzle together, which draws a very different picture. I looked at all their perceptions and where their points of views were coming from.  What I have found are the missing pieces of the puzzle that have caused the great divide in the first place.

    There is a lack of trust with the governments and some of the agencies involved such as UICN, CITES, USFWS to name a few, and rightly so as they have not made themselves available to the general public. They have kept things hidden. Whether it is an egotistical, elitist response or the belief that “laymen” will not understand, these groups have not made proper use of data and have failed to communicate that these problems exist. They should have educated the public on the dilemmas we face around this world and left their egos aside. Many issues could be solved if communication was open and dialogue could take place. Hiding behind a degree or position is not enough to invoke trust in their statements. A large majority wants to make those decisions for themselves. You need to prove your statements with facts and supporting data. This is one part of the problem that has caused such a divide. Some of the responsibility lies in these organizations for not fostering communication, teaching and bringing awareness. Stepping up the time frames that involve threatened and endangered species is also a must. Best guessed scenarios of when a crisis may occur is not good enough. When a species is in jeopardy such as the Black Rhino, reviews should be done yearly or bi-yearly. When something jumps out such as the increase in poaching as has happened in the past two years, attention needs to shift and decisions made immediately and the issue brought to public awareness.

    Many conservation groups are afraid to speak out because they are concerned their financial aid will stop and that an attack from the animal rights groups would be imminent, possibly destroying their reputation. You may find a small reference somewhere deep in the depths of their websites on these controversial subjects but again there is a fear of loss of funding rather than bringing awareness to a crisis. By not being openly supportive of some of these issues, only brings them under suspicion. It’s sad that we have had to come to this. We need to stop this insanity and the us versus them attitude.

    The hunting community has many faults and draws a lot of anger; and to be honest, most of it self-inflicted. Posting inappropriate pictures of dead animals while laughing, sticking bear cans in the mouth of a lion, using its tail as a powder puff, riding a dead rhino as though they are on the back of a bucking bull is irresponsible and rightly going to draw an angry response from most people. Boasting and bragging in a way that is meant to provoke protests from “tree huggers” have not done your conservation efforts any justice and has caused an even greater divide. Hunters, although conservationists now, were directly responsible for the demise of many extinct species. They need to take responsibility for that and admit to mistakes from the past.

    There is a stigma that needs to be overcome and that involves dialogue, education and acknowledgement that these things are wrong and working within your own community to change perceptions of hunters and it needs take a higher precedence. More discerning choices of what to hunt and where to hunt should be considered if we are ever going to find some common ground. Holding your own members accountable on Extreme Trophy Hunts of species that are threatened and endangered and stopping them by drawing a line as to what is acceptable and what isn’t. Working along side with animal welfare advocates and find common ground and peaceful solutions that everyone can live with. There needs to be ethics in hunting beyond the scope of what appears to exist presently as well as educating non hunting communities on your efforts and being more respectful to those that disagree with you.

    Open up a real dialogue with some animal welfare groups and word towards a mutual agreement on methods of conservation and provide them with your own data collection on your conservation methods. Admit what's worked and what's failed.

    Threats and name calling is coming from both sides of the debate. No one side was better than the other and this must stop. No one listens when this happens, we all either shut down or try to yell louder. This just doesn’t work. We need to come together and work together in order to solve some of the crisis we are all going through on this planet. We can all agree that our goal is the protection and conservation of the animals even though we are at opposite ends of the spectrum on how to get there.

    There are another group called animal rights that are a much tougher nut to crack. Their voices are loud and their end goals are very different. There is a zero tolerance from animal deaths and strong held beliefs. However we should be able to come together as one to save a species and open our minds that something deeply disturbing to you may in fact be the only option in saving a species. Sometimes we have to live with decisions that are against our moral character but for the sake of survival maybe the only option there is! As is in the instance of South Africa.

    South Africa cannot be fixed over night. It will take several generations in order for that to happen, in the mean time we need to drop our idealism at least in matters that pertain to the Black Rhino and some of the other Big 5 or we will lose the species OR is too important for us to never waiver and always hold our position?

    If that decision sees the end of the Black Rhino because of our own inflexibility to see a larger picture at stake, then we are no better than anyone else in this picture.

    I have one group left, the animal welfare advocate; I know the well-meaning intentions of those that fight so hard everyday to save animals from harm. The dolphins in Taiji, the Black Rhino, elephants, lions and the roadside zoos with animals that are neglected and abused. Their efforts should be applauded. They work tirelessly for nothing other than peace of mind and in hopes that they can make this a better world. They also need to gain a deeper understand of what hunters are trying to do now, not what happened in the past. Things have really changed in recent years. Some times things just aren’t black and white. There is a high level of suspicion, which I myself experienced and found prevalent within almost every individual or group that I became in touch with.

    We need to drop our guard only slightly enough to hear what the other side has to say.  Take some time to digest it and start to give some benefit of the doubt their position.

    Moving forward, instead of reactive we need to be proactive.  That does not mean stop what we are doing.  Bring awareness and ask why first. We need to be more focused on the research aspect first no matter how difficult that may be. We need a clear understand how the individual perceptions play a role in the process and although they make perfect sense, it may not always be the actuality.

    I can only hope that this letter can be the beginning of bringing at least some of us all together so that we can begin to heal the wounds we have inflicted on each other and start to engage in a dialogue that does not involve threatening each other, name calling or belittling an others opinion. With a similar goal and finding common ground, we can together find answers and help SA a little bit quicker than we can constantly battling each other.

    Part 2

    After hearing from an animal expert on the ground in South Africa today, who works with these animals and had the guts to speak out, even though it could easily affect his career. He very eloquently described the many levels of problems that are involved in the Black Rhino issue as well as some other species as well. This is not a black and white issue; it is grey and many many shades of grey. No one thing can or will fix this. It will take an entire revamping of local government, education of local people, and eradication of poaching. This country needs help, a lot of help. They also need understanding. One cannot be done without the other so it will be a slow process and hopefully with time, it can come around with all our help.

    Although this is a very tricky subject to broach without someone getting their britches in a knot, we need to know that the hunters have done a lot for conservation around the world. I will acknowledge the help that Hunters have played in conservation and keeping poachers away in some of these remote areas of Africa. I was told today that without the Rangers, Conservationists on the ground keeping the poachers away as best as they can, the Rhino would already be extinct. Hunters indirectly and in some cases directly have also assisted in this. At the very least, poachers tend to stay away when hunters are around.

    The crisis that does need our immediate attention is poaching and the Asian Market. Immediate and harsh action needs to come against any individual, business, or country that does not ban poaching or assist in stopping it. It isn’t enough to increase penalties for poaching or trading in ivory. These people are raping Africa of their most precious resources.

    The Asian governments need to take action within their own country and take out the syndicates much in the way that Pablo Escobar was taken out by the US during the cocaine wars. They need to start educating their people on the effects of decimating entire herds of animals and the myths of animal parts as medicinal remedies. There needs to be education for them to stop believing that ownership of animal trophies, horns and ivory is a status symbols as in reality it is a shame and implicates them on a crime to humanity.

    It needs to stop now! There IS no time to waste. We need to come together as one world, one voice to fight poaching before there is nothing left.

    It is my hope that moving forward these areas of contention can be addressed with an open form of communication between the polar opposites. We need to start some dialogue and use poaching as a means of bringing a greater awareness to the world around us. We should tackle poaching as the first step in a joint effort to improve conservation around the world. Then hopefully, we can continue to work together on and learn from this to improve relations on other tender subjects.

    I would first like to start by introducing you to each other. Hunter meet Animal Welfare Aid. You are not murderers any more that we are tree huggers. Some of us eat meat, some of us don’t. Some hunt and some don’t. We are humanity and we all care.

    Part 3

    I addressed the reasons for the divide between hunters and animal welfare/rights groups and covered the crisis of poaching.  We now need to look at the problems in South African and Namibia.  Although not the same, they share the same needs to protect the Black Rhino.

    The issue of Southern Africa is so much deeper and more difficult for even some of their own citizens to comprehend. It is a puzzle that I will attempt to piece together here. Each piece is a problem and once the puzzle is complete it unfortunately will only show the immensity of the problem. I hope it will bring a better understanding as to why certain methods have been taken towards conservation.

    We then need to work on solutions. I am including Namibia and South Africa as (SA) unless noted separately.

    There are a lot of problems in SA and the levels of problems are very deep. Perceptions are different depending on your place in the society. All perceptions are valid and have merit but its only when these individual pieces come together that it begins to form the complete picture.

    I am not an expert only an observer who has become involved in a tangled mess of contradiction.

    The Government has many issues to deal with. Abject poverty, criminal activity, corruption (more so in SA than Namibia), a large biodiversity and poaching just to name a few. Resources are already spread thin. Affirmative action had put some members in government positions that are incapable of understanding or making the necessary changes that are required to bring change and others do not take the plight of animals serious enough.

    There has been a shift in conservation and I recently came across an accumulation of data that was not easy to obtain. Buried in the depths of government websites.   It did help me to change my own perception.

    Education in many areas of SA is minimal as are jobs. The local people in most instances are left to fend for themselves. This has created a lot of the criminal activity that is rampant as it is a survival measure more than anything. Also, seeing some very rich members of Society that are allowed to do the exact things that they are not, does not present itself well to the local people nor should it. Again, it is their perception of the problem.

    Due to all the wars that have happened within their boarders, a large supply of guns have been left behind which has armed many and are very easy to obtain. This has made poaching easier and the amount of money that the Asian Syndicates offers local people is more than enough for them to risk their own lives.

    The Asian Rhino horn and elephant tusk syndicate will pay local people large sums of money to supply their demand. To the locals this is a much-needed lifeline to ensure their own survival. The locals see that hunters, if they pay enough money, can trophy runt and do not understand why they are not allowed. This is a mixed message to the locals that exasperates the problem. They need to survive and their government isn’t/can't doing enough. For that matter, neither are the rest of us!

    The next piece of this puzzle is how do you prosecute your very own people for just trying to survive. Strong laws have recently been put in place. (Yet another cost on the government). Locals have been sent to jail. Sentences ranging from 2 years to about 12 are issued from time to time. Arrests made are as follows,*not convictions. 343 in 2013 and 267 for 2012. Of the 2012 figures 238 were level 1 i.e. shooters, 11 level 2 (receiver/buyer) and 18 level 3 (courier/buyer). A small percentage of these are convicted and my perception is that this conviction rate is improving slowly. The problem is that very few kingpins or even level 4 are every arrested let alone convicted. The Chumlong case that I would put at level 4 received 30-year sentence but that’s only one person in 5 years. He has already been replaced in the organized crime chain. http://www.stoprhinopoaching.com/statistics.aspx

    Those that do work feverishly to prevent poaching are as perplexed from their own perception. The very animals that they risk their lives to save (and there is a plaque in Kenya that shows the 60 rangers whose lives have been lost to poaching) do not understand why hunters are allowed to kill them! Which is also a totally understandable perception.

    The Thin Green Line Foundation has recorded the deaths of approximately 1,000 rangers in the past decade; it estimates that the real figure may be as high as 5,000 for the period. SOURCE: http://www.eia-international.org/remembering-the-fallen-on-world-ranger-day-2013

    Some eco-tourism and photo-safaris have generated revenue and is the second largest revenue generator for the country. However, for the plight of the Black Rhino and the rest of the Big 5, it does not spread far enough to ensure the survival of the species. Eco-tourism revenue in South Africa and Namibia differ. South Africa having a reputation of criminal activity and corruption has less opportunity to create more eco-tourism. Namibia has a much higher amount of Eco-tourism. Namibia is also a little more difficult to access for poachers and has not suffered as much as South Africa has in this regard but in saying that, if something isn’t done to curb the poaching in South Africa, Namibia will be the next target.

    Hunters to their own credit have been watching and do work on conservation more than the general public has been made aware. They offered to come into Arica and provide a revenue stream that is most needed and the money does go back to conservation. However it includes revenue from Trophy Hunting. Due to the Animal Rights issues, they have tried to remain low key.

    There is also the biological issues and breeding issues in the Black Rhino that needs to be addressed. Black Rhinos are a more difficult species to breed than the White Rhino, which was described in depth to me by the SA Veterinarian. Translocation does work as long as the new herd is left alone and barring poaching, can increase their numbers in the wild. However, if new Rhinos are introduced due to some poaching as a means to replenish the herd later, there is very often fatal social aggression with up to a 50% mortality rate due to fighting.

    Black Rhinos do tend to stop reproducing as they age and could be placed into a sanctuary setting however, they will not reproduce and will take the much needed space and funding that could be used for translocation.

    Their effects on Echo Tourism would be minimal as most tourists come to see the herds of animals in the wild and not so much an old bull or even several. However, there could be place for this given free space that does not have a better purpose as long as funding were available. However funding of animals which are not contributing to the species, when breeding projects are insufficiently funded (especially in areas of security), is a luxury that they don’t seem to be able to afford.

    The decision to cull older bulls is a 7-8-step process to determine if a bull meets the criteria. I do not at this time have the steps but no decision is taken lightly. CITES has allocated 5 bulls a year for Namibia and 5 others for SA. However, typically only 2-3 has been culled per year they have never taken the entire five. This for me, helps to prove that money alone is not a motivator here as they would auction 5 per year if that was the case.

    Part 4

    We as animal activists have dropped the ball, we can scream, yell, sign petitions about the injustice we believe is happening in SA, but we have not provided a solution or revenue to fix the problem. We take a stand against killing threatened and endangered species and rightly so!  But we failed to look at the effects we will have on an area such as SA. Understanding the bigger picture and putting our energy towards fixing the problem, instead of just telling others what they are doing wrong is not the answer!

    I also discussed this issue with a local veterinarian on the success of charities that have been put in place to provide conservation funding. Only to find that the government has had to step in and place enforcement for some of these agencies to report their data to prove that money is going to where they claim it is. Many have not yet produced documentation. Financial aid is critical for SA and well-meaning people are donating money but it is not going to where it is needed.

    Last October a cry for help was given. "SANParks CEO, Dr David Mabunda, said, “As the custodian and sanctuary for the majority of Africa’s rhino population, and 91% of the world rhino population, it is distressing to report that with the exception for the Honorary Rangers’ initiatives during 2013, SANParks has not received a cent from independent rhino fundraisers this year. We are in a crisis situation that requires funding for expert human and technical resources.”

    There are some efforts that seem to be helping that may be able to work in SA if they have not been tried already.

    “For almost a year now, they have been conducting a plan they refer to as the “amnesty scheme”. Through word of mouth, poachers have been encouraged to turn themselves in. The catch? For giving up their weapons and their intel- they were offered an opportunity to apply for a ranger position in the park. The result? 56 poachers turned themselves in; of them 45 completed training for park employment. Currently some are employed s eco-guards, protecting the park wildlife, and some have been given jobs as eco-monitors, recording information and conducting survey’s.” http://fightforrhinos.com/2013/11/14/second-chances-success-in-the-congo/

    The sum of this boils down to one key point. MONEY there is a deep need for funding in SA for conservation and if the money is to be directed towards conservation, it is up to ALL OF US to find funding that will fix all of the above issues. If we want to save the Black Rhino and the rest of the Big 5 we need to focus our attention on finding funding sources and bringing greater awareness and ways to overcome the poaching issue that is main area of concern.

    Everyone needs to put egos aside. Admit to the part they have played in this and reevaluate their positions. I know we all want to save the Black Rhino. That is our common ground. Lets start from there and open communication so that we can tackle this together.

    We can all pat ourselves on the back for bringing the media into this and bringing some awareness. Now if we can team up and show the rest of the world, we are down to business, they will have to listen…

    Even if we don't team up, we still have to be part of the solution!

    My final thought, sometimes we have to make difficult choices and doing the right thing, may not always be the popular thing. Some are not going to agree with this. Some will go out of their way to fight it. Don’t let anyone speak for you, do not let anyone convince to go against your conscience. Let it guide you to make the right choice for yourself and for the animals.

    If you agree and want to be part of the solution, please join us at One World One Voice for Conservation

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/185377041672871/

    http://www.livescience.com/42776-rhino-poaching-south-africa.html

    http://www.janmartinmcguire.com/conservation/

    http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/SSC-OP-039.pdf

    http://www.pri.org/stories/2013-10-08/rangers-kenya-are-outgunned-new-poaching-arms-race

    http://www.eia-international.org/remembering-the-fallen-on-world-ranger-day-2013

    http://mg.co.za/article/2014-01-16-why-sa-cannot-win-the-rhino-waSo

     

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