There are few more literal and bloody battles in the war on the environment than that being waged by poachers against rhinos in our nature reserves. So often with this war, those of us far from the desperate frontline – the bushveld, the high seas, Antarctica, the rain forest – look on appalled and helpless.
It doesn't have to be that way. Maybe you can't do a night patrol or give specialised veterinary care, but there are nonetheless effective actions you can take:
Buy a "rhino bag" or a "My Planet" card
It sounds mundane, but these are simple, inexpensive ways to raise funds and awareness.
Woolworths partnered with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to produce wildly popular, limited edition reusable "rhino" bags: R10 from the sale of each R30-bag has gone towards anti-poaching equipment and support. This includes such costly and essential items (many of which the poachers have in plenty) as binoculars, radios, night-vision gear, bullet-proof armour, rhino-tracking and camping equipment, training for anti-poaching units and emergency veterinary treatment for injured rhinos.
Cape Town designers Pitchblack came up with the Rhino Bag's artwork: it asks us to "imagine no rhinos" and includes the sobering equation: "The Big 5 minus the rhino equals the Big 4".
If your local Woolworths has run out of these bags, don't fret. Get a MyPlanet card: every time you shop at Woolworths, or Waltons, kalahari.net, Reggies, Toys R Us, Engen QuickShops and Club Travel, a percentage of your purchases will be donated to WWF. It costs you absolutely nothing extra.
You can also donate directly to the WWF's Rhino Fund.
Work your international contacts
Encourage friends, in Asia especially, to demand their governments take tougher action against the illegal rhino horn trade and spread the word that rhino horn products are completely ineffectual and are decimating the numbers of a much-loved, irreplaceable African icon and tourism resource.
Visit our reserves
Not only does supporting our national parks help keep them financially sustainable, but it serves another valuable purpose: as the WWF points out, tourist presence is a deterrent to environmental criminals, and park visitors can act as additional "eyes and ears" to scan for wrongdoing.
Be vigilent to anything that seems suspicious to you, like unattended vehicles parked at the side of the road, people in civilian wear carrying weapons or blocking the road, perhaps claiming to have car trouble. Observe and record details including time of day, place, physical appearance of suspects and make, colour and registration number of vehicles. Keep the reserve's main office number on you, and call immediately if you witness any dodgy-looking activities.
Become a rhino warrior
OK, this one's certainly not for everybody. But if you have ranger or military experience, the anti-poaching campaign may be able to use you on the ground, either as an employee or volunteer.
You can also apply for training to become part of an anti-poaching unit -- again, not for everyone: you need to be fit enough, have the right temperament, and be prepared to devote considerable time and dedication to acquire the skills that equip you for this dangerous, highly responsible task. SanWild is running a counter-poaching ranger training course (18-35-year-olds only I'm afraid, and Rambos who can't follow orders are unlikely to be welcome!) -- see their web site for details or contact them at email@example.com.
We can't (nor should we) all be on the frontline, but there's plenty of vital support work needed to keep rhinos and their protectors safe. You can volunteer to join South African National Parks' Counter Poaching and Ranger Support Services (CP & RSS) as an honorary ranger. Contact the chairperson of CP &RSS, John Turner, for more info: firstname.lastname@example.org. Rangers may do patrols too, but this is not the kind of counter-poaching work which requires specialised training as mentioned above.
Keep up the pressure
Keep talking and agitating about the issue and make sure it stays in the media spotlight:
Anti-poaching demonstrators outside Parliament in Cape Town on the last "Rhino Day". Slogans on posters read: "Poached egg is yummy; poached rhino, tasteless"; "Can't get it up? See a doctor - leave rhino alone".
Rhinos in the 21st century
Rhino poaching has risen exponentially over the last couple of years, driven by demand for use of powdered horn in traditional medicines in Asia: we are currently losing at least 20 rhinos per month this way. In the last five years, about 600 rhinos have been poached across the African continent.
South Africa really is the last outpost for these unique animals: our country is home to 80% of the world's rhino population: about 4000 black rhino and 20 000 white rhino. This is where the battle must be fought and won to save them.
- Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth Editor, Health24, updated August 2011
Stats in this article sourced from WWF.
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