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Farwell, farewell, you old rhinoceros - Ian Manning.

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NR Game Dept and Natal Parks Board collecting w rhino in Zululand 1961

 

Front: on left, Barry Shenton (Warden of Kafue National Park), then Johnny Uys (Senior Game Ranger) and later Warden of the Luangwa NP, and 4th from left is Ian Player.

 

Barry and Johnny were from the Northern Rhodesia Game Department and the rest there were Natal Parks Board. This was taken in 1961 when they took delivery of a few white rhino that first went to Kafue and then were transferred to Mosi oa Tunya NP. One left today.

 

This illustrates the translocation that was taking place. Image courtesy and copyright of Alli Shenton.

 

 

The rhino is a homely beast,

For human eyes he's not a feast.

Farwell, farewell, you old rhinoceros,

I'll stare at something less prepoceros.

 

Ogden Nash - The Rhinoceros

 

 

The old rhino, bless his harrumphing heart, is far from well on World Rhino Day. The slow and steady assault for his horn over the centuries – for dagger handles, for muti, his hide for kibokos - has turned to madness. They can’t even wait for him to die. Just hack it off and run, screaming,“Balega!”

 

We are now truly denizens of the Plundercene epoch.

 

Where once he was found over much of Africa – the moist forest excluded – he is now down to 5, 000 or so pert-mouthed gleaning black rhino, and 19,000 grazing white rhino – so named because of his wijd lawn-mower mouth. Most of the white - and half of the black, are in South Africa, 75% or so in the national and provincial protected areas, the rest on private land; but daily at least one is parted for ever from its horn. Over the last five years the number poached has gone from 83 in 2008 to a projected 532 at the end of 2012. What has happened ? The answer is that the rhino suffers the dreadful congruence of the unprincipled Asian boom with that of those supreme harvesters of the production of others, statist South Africa and its increasingly dysfunctional institutions and nine supposedly semi-autonomous provinces - basket-cases in the main. The chance of putting an end in a kleptocracy to the rhino slaughter on state land is slight – perhaps in Kwazulu where they were saved in the first place. But what of the massive private game estate and communal land? Here at least the rhino must be secured for posterity; yet the 20 million hectares of game ranch is increasingly beset by land grabs, criminal horn harvesters, the Provincial Confederacy of Dysfunction, and by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora) – itself producing ever more bureaucracy and trade restrictions. Then there are the sorcerer inspired bestial attacks on the rancher, his family and his staff – already having reduced the general farming community from 400,000 farmers to 40,000. Because caring for rhino brings all kinds of trouble some ranchers now sell their rhino, or the land as well, or move back into cattle or sunflowers; or join the container diaspora.

 

The saving of the white rhino and its increase is one of the great conservation success stories. Down to a few dozen in Zululand a century ago, the Natal Parks Board began an intensive programme of translocation and protection after WWII. However, in 1968 when they issued a safari hunting quota for their 1,800 rhino, investment flowed in for the rhino’s conservation, lending impetus to the game ranching revolution and providing fertile ground for the massive rhino population increase and other wildlife that resulted. It was the hunting industry that did it.

 

In old British East and Central Africa decolonisation and the departure of the white man and his Magna Carta conservation model created the necessary conditions for the new killing fields, the actual slaughter precipitated by the Mama Ngina inspired closure of hunting safaris in Kenya in the early 1970s and the removal of the bwana from the bush. Alas, the indigenous guardians of nature, the hunting-conservation sects such as the aChiwinda that might have opposed the slaughter had already been destroyed by the arab slavers and ivory traders up to 1885, and then killed off completely by colonialism.

 

By 1993, twenty years after the start of the carnage, the black rhino was extinct in Zambia; 20, 000 and more gone to China, their passage observed with supreme disinterest by a dysfunctional and corrupt Government and by cowardly grass-chair paleface ‘conservationists’; an achingly sad day for our ‘stewardship of nature’ culture.

 

What to do? The mantra of course will always be for more ‘fortress conservation’ endeavour from the great and the good, for a mini donor-aid industry spewing out more toys and 4 by 4 supports, neglecting those that live next to the conservation enclaves, that great shimmering expanse of masenke tin-shacks or neglected land where there will never be any jobs, only the monthly ANC grant from the ‘Big Man’ at Tuinhuis. The conservation of rhino requires a fresh approach.

 

The rhino will only be saved if it has value within a highly controlled marketing system where an alliance has been forged between the market and the producer. This was foreseen ten years ago when CITES was first implemented in South Africa with the creation of the Chamber of Wildlife, a national organisation supposed to represent all the private game estate, and as well the customary and communal land where wildlife populations could be built up and managed in public-private partnerships between rural communities and investors. Here too was the answer to land reform. Sadly it was killed stone cold jug dead by the professional hunting industry who at the time were unenthusiastic about getting involved with communal and customary land. Now, given the land reform pressures, they see that it has to be done. The organisation representing the game ranchers, Wildlife Ranching South Africa have made it known that they are prepared to help convert the 12 million hectares of unutilised non-agricultural communal land to game ranching through various kinds of ‘smart’ partnerships.

 

Rhino conservation must adopt the de Beers Central Selling Organisation model. We must open a national rhino stud-book and register every rhino on private land, followed by state and communal land. The Rhino Selling Organisation, empowered under national legislation, will then issue the annual offtake quota, hold quota auctions, deal with CITES and control the market. The rhino, on fenced land, may well have to be declared a domestic animal; unthinkable I know.

 

First we need to capture the necessary two-thirds support from the CITES Conference of the Party members to move the rhino out of its Appendix I and II straightjacket. If not; South Africa must withdraw from CITES. The time is up.

 

Recently I attended the TRAFFIC presentation in Joburg on the Vietnam –South Africa rhino criminal trade with friends whose McKenzie Foundation part funded the TRAFFIC study. There I met again a former colleague from the Zambian Game Department and later WWF International member who for a while part funded my doomed attempt to save Zambia’s rhino 25 years ago. A painful memory.

 

Those caring for rhino now need to be bold and assertive. It is time for the kommando to saddle up.

 

 

 

I. P. A. Manning is an environmental activist and writer who as Chief Technical Advisor to the Department of Environmental Affairs & Tourism oversaw the initial implementation of CITES in South Africa and the founding of the Chamber of Wildlife (1998-2000).

 

 

(First published in Without Prejudice - www.withoutprejudice.co.za)

 

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