Rhino – Africa unite

Freedom

There are two schools of thought on the future of Africa’s wildlife. In their purest forms the first is the preservation of wild animals in non-consumptive wilderness / sanctuaries; i.e. – reservations designed and managed to give wildlife free-roaming access & / or with minimal interference from people. The funding for the management of these sanctuaries is externalised or collected at the entrance gate / green lodge etc. People who find this school of thought the most acceptable are often branded as misguided, misinformed or out of touch with reality. This pigeonholing emanates from those who call themselves ‘conservationists i.e. – the second school of thought.

Conservationists (generally) predicate their strategy on, for the purposes of this note, an overly simplified ” if it pays, it stays “ policy & these long-suffering greybeards shake their fists at the armchair warriors who find the concept exploitative, if not abhorrent. This is where it gets difficult, if not a little incendiary.

Open your eyes

 

Other than the elephants & rhino themselves, nobody’s paying attention…

The two schools of thought have become antagonistic, diversionary & polarising. They shouldn’t be.

Other than the elephants & the rhino themselves, nobody’s paying attention… It’s vacuous & an easy conduit for corruption, duplicity and treachery. The consequence is mistrust, competition and infighting. It’s this proliferation of chaos & confusion that entrenches / facilitates the illegal market. Stir in cross-over concessions to the opposing school of thought eg: the non-lethal (or ‘consumption lite‘) sale of wildlife from one sanctuary to another, and it’s the perfect foil for exploitation. We’ll get to the finger-pointing bits & pieces soon.

On the road to no tomorrow

Conservationists are often professionals in the field & / or reliant, in this context, on Africa’s wildlife in one way or another to put food in the ice bucket. Preservationists are usually, not. This is a simplification, of course, but an important variable. Other, self-styled conservationists include ranch-owners, the trophy-hunting fraternity & the periphery or fringe: pseudo-professionals we’ll call the “security opportunists”.  

Safari Club International (SCI), an organisation representing the vast number of American hunters arriving on these shores, are self-described conservationists & within the ambit of their definition that’s true. The figures speak for themselves and history confirms the assertion. This is important.  

If conservation is described as “the husbandry of habitat for the use of wildlife..”, then by extrapolation the hunting fraternity does more to preserve game, outside the sanctuaries obviously, than any other pigeonholed group, well-intentioned or otherwise. Unfortunately, the social-media focus has shifted away from this broad ideal to the rights of the individual animal & the diatribe is both vicious and finite. This stereotyping abrogates from the outcome and clouds the truism ie: people with a vested interest are motivated to preserve the sanctity of that interest.

We’ve become distracted by the rhetoric & mudslinging …

 

Notwithstanding, in the case of Africa’s wildlife, this vested interest is common to both schools of thought – & at its core: the preservation of habitat. It’s a fortunate overlap; a concession to common sense & a strategic point of departure. It’s also the solution to the poaching scourge.

….the solution to the poaching scourge.    

The conversion of wilderness to agriculture has a significant impact on Africa’s biodiversity; iconic species notwithstanding. The broad debate between ‘idealists & realists or even derivatives of the two, should not lose focus of the macro issue – the preservation of habitat. Reducing that debate to the semantics of HOW, rather than WHY, is at the heart of the confusion & the life-blood of the illegal trade. 
If we park the HOW cretins for a minute and concede the idea that people with a vested interest want to see Africa’s game proliferate, then WHY, as the point of departure, becomes a motivation of ‘vested interest‘ and / or the conversion of non-interest (disinterest) to vested interest.
Africa’s wilderness areas and even its sanctuaries are under threat by an ever-expanding human population and, more especially, the reliance of those people on the land for food-security. The vast majority of Africa’s people are forced into a life of subsistence; an economically inefficient strategy. Perversely, the multinational exploitation (commercial) of natural resources, for profit, is a spin-off or a consequence of an indifferent domestic populace and, like poaching, relies on non-interest for ease of access.

The poaching of Africa’s rhino & elephant is an African problem and should be tackled in an African way.

In the hands of the children

 

The poaching of Africa’s iconic species is an African problem and should be tackled in an African way. The solution is a multi-faceted model and its rudiments are already in place.

In South Africa, the children & grandchildren of a demographic who were once politically & economically disenfranchised are, today, at the forefront of positive change. Access to education, for ordinary South Africans, has improved. The provision of clean water & electricity to semi-rural households is patchy but on the political agenda. The lines defining rural & urban landscapes are softer. In Limpopo and Mpumalanga, the two provinces bordering the Kruger National Park [the current front-line of Southern Africa’s war on rhino-poaching], better housing is under construction or completed. Drill down to the occupants of these houses and most are inhabited by older people who have lived in the area for decades. Parked outside or in open garages are Gauteng-registered vehicles – especially on weekends and during national holidays.

[For those who don’t know, Gauteng is the economic hub of South Africa some 500 kilometers further inland and a magnet for younger people seeking access to the job-markets. Keep this in mind.]

“We generally change ourselves for one of two reasons – inspiration or desperation” – [Jim Rohn] 

Strength – together

At the heart of South Africa’s anti-poaching initiative is so-called fortress security. Higher, stronger fences, more foot & air patrols, bigger guns, more technology, spies in the sky, counter-spies on the ground, insurgencies & counter-insurgents and the other accoutrements deemed essential for a western-styled war, waged in the hinterlands, on a continent most couldn’t find without drone surveillance and GPS co-ordinates.

We’re told by the camo-clad ex-this-and-whatever that the enemy [ie: the poachers] are well trained, well-armed, bush-wise and fleet of foot. The irony of that claim never ceases to boggle the mind. In truth, most poachers are a rag-tag bunch – in possession of stolen firearms; with limited access to ammunition; some bush-sense and an axe to grind.

Let slip the dogs of war....

 

Do me a favour

Never judge a man by his clothes – judge a man by his smarts ..

It seems almost unthinkable, therefore, that the rank & file – individuals on the lowest rungs of the illegal-trade cartels have and are prevailing in an increasingly militarised field & yet they are. Why?    They know

The commercial annihilation of Africa’s keystone species has created a militarised anti-poaching industry; bastions of jack-booted / externally-funded operatives of non-performance. I want to distinguish between rangers who, in the evolution of their role out in the field, are more exposed to anti-poaching activities than they might once have been and the private sector who, for profit, provide training, technology, logistical support or booted feet out in the field. Rangers conduct their APU activities in conjunction with the more mundane elements of their KPAs; e.g. – game-management / maintenance et cetera. I would assume these men & women look forward to the cessation of poaching and all its gory consequences, not least of which is the real threat of a fatal injury. The private sector, perversely, emerged from retirement to supplement the expanding anti-poaching supply chain. It’s sustainability, as an industry, relies on an inherent conflict of interest that is difficult to dismiss. It’s also symptomatic – an expensive tail-chase if you will.

Well-intentioned donations pour into the private sector coffers. Emotive / mainstream media marketing campaigns are premised on what is, in essence, the manifestation of failure. It’s blatant incompetence & yet, perversely, society condones the industry’s tenacity & sympathises with the collateral hardship. Analogous is the cycle of violence perpetrated on Africa’s wildlife. Gruesome pictures of butchered animals and redacted portraits of the barefooted butchers themselves, are featured in the press & on social media and the cycle perpetuates. Into this maelstrom step the trade-the-animal-product opportunists; the count-down to the domestic sale of 500 kg of rhino horn just a short regret away in mid-August.

It’s difficult to reconcile society’s concession to non-performance, in this context, but it’s time & past-time for a change of gear – a different point of departure; a fresh focus… 

 

There is another way – it’s not new, having being successfully adopted elsewhere [& the results speak for themselves] but it’s infinitely more effective. It’s past time for the privatised / militarised ‘Anti-Poaching’ industry to concede their failure.

The deception is real; the heritage of this country too long left in the hands of profit, agenda, self-aggrandisement and an industry premised on an undeniable conflict of interest. The opportunists are encouraged, if not incentivised, by the prospects of legal trade. Teary-eyed children ambushed, & therefore betrayed, by images they should never see, empty their pockets to ‘Save the faceless Rhino‘ but let’s be fair; this is an industry of misrepresentation & innuendo. At least I hope it is – believing one’s own PR is another level of stupid altogether… Into the ineptitude of this self-perpetuating industry wade economists, the erudite and the HOW stereotypes.

Stay with me. We’re not opening the gates of hell. 

 

In segregated South Africa, disenfranchised, mostly black, South Africans built their homes close-to or adjacent thoroughfare roads built by the State to service points of interest scattered around the country, the Kruger National Park included. Displaced people, forced to make way for the proclamation of Kruger, settled close-by. The resentment was palpable & still is, to some degree, today. It’s an emotive issue.

Wealthy entrepreneurs who saw some future worth in wildlife, acquired large tracts of land adjacent the park and promoted vistas redolent of ancient Africa to foreign-currency paying eco-tourists. The strategy bore fruit and in recent times multi-billion rand transactions are not rare. In recent years the APNR (Associated Private Nature Reserves – Timbavati, Klaserie, Balule & Umbabat) dropped their fences to the Kruger National Park to facilitate, apparently, the free-flowing access of game to their ancient east / west migratory routes… Cynics might point out that it’s tidier in the APNR’s books to have the Kruger stock their properties than it would be at the business end of the auction gavel &, if the wanderers procreate, then voilà – winner, winner; venison-dinner! In bonus play, fly-in guests pay usurious sums for exclusivity and it’s a win for all, right? Wrong.

Look beyond

Whilst we’re chewing the fat, you might not know that elements of the APNR derive their revenue primarily from hunting…(+60% vs. circa 17% from tourism) [owner levies make up the balance]. Kruger provides the necessary tape / oversight..

Good fences make good neighbours …

This year’s APNR off-take [culling] / hunting application includes elephant, rhino, lion, buffalo and leopard (a shot in the dark really given the blanket-ban on leopard-hunting in SA). 5000-odd impala will see the inside of a vacuum-packed *biltong packet (*dried / salted meat); a commodity paying eco-tourists snack-on behind their cameras or in contemplation of a brochured vista .. Pink Gin in hand.

“… No madam; the thunder over that hill, in this cloudless sky, isn’t common; even in Africa. You’re very lucky. More biltong?” 

In context, almost 40% of Timbavati’s derived revenue is spent on anti-poaching security. The success of that spend is confirmed in the zero (0) loss of rhino / elephant over the past 18 months. [excl. the 1 rhino trophy-hunted in 2016]. That speaks for management. Further south, in the similarly-sized Sabi Sand Game Reserve, trophy hunting is a thing of its past. Then again Sabi has three times the number of beds at almost 2x the pppn, on average. It’s a less-divisive, more contemporary model but it has also taken time & commitment. Incidentally, before you call for an immediate boycott of the APNR lodges [& there are some popular lodges in the APNR] understand that the lodges have almost no say in the management of the respective reserves.

It’s a less-divisive, more contemporary, model.

 

If we’re after an African solution then we need to involve Africans; people who earn their survival in these soils; families whose roots stretch back to a different time. These people live in a dynamic buffer zone around the national parks &/or managed reservations. Where traditional conservation management stratagems work well enough in the parks – the reciprocal approach, outside the parks, is lacking if not entirely absent. It’s tough to concede the oversight but there you are.

Community-life has its benefits; some say it’s encoded in our DNA; an evolutionary survival technique that advanced our species. Our propensity to seek cohesion or some sense of belonging is another tenet of a balanced social life – [it’s a social-shortcoming if your predilections are unsavoury, however]. Nobody moves through communities without being recognised a stranger & nobody acts alone. Community members erring on the illegal side are well-known to most. Where the community is excluded & as a consequence has little vested interest in the sanctity of the parks & it’s megafauna – deriving little benefit, if anything, other than token employment by a luxury lodge or two, it’s difficult to expect anything other than broad disinterest. Incursions into the parks may well be ‘encouraged‘, if not tacitly condoned as ‘fair exchange’. Park borders are porous as a consequence. Change that fact, meaningfully, and access to the parks, via the traditional routes, will close almost immediately. Why is that so difficult to comprehend?

How then do we transfer belonging or a vested interest to a community long-since spurned?

Change is coming

The incentives are simple – earning trust perhaps a little more difficult. The 1st step is to rid the sanctuaries of the private-sector-owned anti-poaching industry whose current reliance on public outrage, to prevent their self-styled apocalypse, is virtually unprecedented. In any case most philanthropic funding misses the conservation goal. In some instances 35% (more) of every donor dollar is spent on overheads. The four largest wildlife NGOs spend approximately $100 million on Africa annually. Draw your own conclusions; the slippage is inexcusable i.m.o

The second step is to provide immediate amnesty, in return for full disclosure, to ALL members of the community either directly, indirectly or tacitly complicit in the poaching pandemic.

A cartel without roots quakes more violently in its boots when the winds of common sense prevail.

It’s impossible to change expectations of an insecure future without providing access to education, financial security and a more balanced sense of self.

Detractors will argue that humanity is inherently greedy & that’s true but, let’s be frank, the very worst of us reside, in marbled glass houses, on continents further west.

“EDUCATION IS THE MOST POWERFUL WEAPON WHICH YOU CAN USE TO CHANGE THE WORLD” – [NELSON MANDELA]

Getting rid of the private sector security industry and the granting of amnesty for full disclosure is a relatively short-term project & readily achievable. As a standalone concept, however, the initiative will fail and the consequences for Africa’s wildlife would be dire. You can’t live [comfortably anyway] in the house foundations. It’s dusty; untidy and relatively cold.

Where to next? We go up – we BUILD!

– hospitals, universities, schools, roads, sanitation & electrical infrastructure, retail hubs, offices and access to technology. These are the bricks of security. The mortar is in the application & the planning. The accoutrements of belief is a balanced meal @ dinner-time.. This is not fast food. Put the people to work and those whose skills need sharpening – give them a grindstone! Hone the donor dollar; unimaginatively blunted and blighted, to a new, more prosperous edge. Empower local industry. Support local services. Create something new. Engender ownership; a real belonging; the elements of a communal vested interest. In a country where unemployment is nearer 30 – resources are an overlooked consequence of an indifferent past; human capital in rich potential but undermined by poverty & a paucity of access. These are the rebar & bricks of life; a self-supporting home – a house built to withstand the Snake-Oil Salesmen. Even so – a house with no roof is soon abandoned.

These are the rebar & bricks of life; … a house built to withstand exploitation and the evocative ‘profits’ peddled by the Snake-Oil Salesmen.

 

Built to withstand the elements a proofed roof provides the sanctity of home that dignity deserves. It’s an investment in the future & a spread of security for all who take sanctuary underneath.

Teach, train & open access to international funding markets; float listed entities; campaign & compete effectively for tangible returns – a landscape brochure of real success & an investment in a fully-functional, sustainable supply chain. Leave no resident unturned. Nobody likes a broken window – the success of the project a function of inclusion & reciprocal trust. A custodial, well-educated, self-supporting community with a vested interest is a secure fence; a good fence – an impenetrable ring of fire – self-governance.

This is Rhino’s gift – the house that free-roaming horn could build & we are ALL the architects of that future or we could shoot the ivory goose and be the poorer for the trade tomorrow. All it takes is a little common sense, some application, broad inclusion, education and a plan.

 

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