Conserving rhinos is about more than just stopping poachers.
Saving Africa’s rhinos will require a multidimensional strategy, with private game reserves and national parks cooperating and anti-poaching efforts working in tandem with education campaigns.
This, according to Joe Cloete, CEO of Shamwari Private Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape, isn’t a new approach but one that needs to be developed and expanded.
“It’s what General Johan Jooste did in the Kruger National Park and what he details in his bookRhino Wars, where the national park integrated its anti-poaching efforts with those of nearby private reserves. He understood the need for education campaigns to get the surrounding communities onside and challenge the myths that create demand for rhino horn.”
He says this approach - tried and tested at the Kruger National Park – is being rolled out in other regions.
“For example, at Shamwari we cooperate with all the surrounding reserves, including the Addo Elephant National Park, sharing intelligence and expertise. We also do a lot of community work, on the reserve as well as running outreach programmes. The aim of these is to inform the community that a live rhino is an asset that keeps bringing employment and income to the region. One that’s killed for its horn brings little, if any, benefit to surrounding communities.”
But, says Cloete, even well-co-ordinated efforts by game reserves, national parks and effective community-engagement programmes aren’t enough. An intensive, concerted international science-based campaign, involving governments, global conservation NGOs is required to debunk the fictions about rhino horn. They should use every tool at their disposal including influencers and social media.
“While it may be difficult to convince a current generation that long-held beliefs about rhino horn curing cancer or increasing virility are untrue, breaking the chain that perpetuates these fallacies in successive generations could be more effective.”
Cloete says that events such as World Rhino Day are important to focus attention on rhino conservation and that while poaching is an immediate and serious threat, it is not the only one.
“At the moment the poaching of animals for their horns is rightly the primary focus of rhino conservation, but there’s little point in winning this battle if we lose the war. Human encroachment on rhino habitat is also a problem and over the long-term ensuring sufficient wilderness spaces for rhinos to survive and flourish is also important.”
It's an objective Shamwari has championed for the past 30 years since it began buying up farms and restoring the land to the wilderness it had once been. Fittingly rhinos were an important part of this story.
Along with elephant and hippo, white rhino were one of the first animals to be re-introduced to what had once been one of southern Africa’s richest wildlife areas. As the large herbivores began moving though what had been chicory and wheat fields these ‘engineers of the bush’ began restoring the soil, fertilising it with their manure and dispersing seeds.
As the land was restored it could support more species. Black rhino and buffalo were brought back in 1993, with cheetah, lion and brown hyena being reintroduced in 2000 and serval and leopard the next year.
“Rhino Day focuses attention on a species under threat, but to conserve these magnificent and important animals in the wild, we not only have to tackle the immediate issues but also holistically consider other factors that put rhino populations at risk.”