Friday, October 23, 2015

The Australian Rhino Project, can it be the answer?

It has been often said that humanity is capable of great achievements, but also monstrous destruction. We share this planet with other living creatures; those who fly through our skies, others who walk the same soil we do, and still those who inhabit the waters. As the dominant creature gifted with reasoning and intelligence, it is expected that we would protect those other living creatures from pointless destruction. That is where the theory ends, with only one exception.

Through the decades human development has brought about industrialisation and urbanisation, gradually polluting this planet and affecting all life on it. As an intelligent species we are capable of turning this damage around, of developing alternatives which will not force us to surrender the comforts that we are so used to. Then why can't we find a way to stop the slaughter of creatures that we share our Earth with? Why should we speak of the extinction of a species simply because of greed driven by an insane demand?

The rhino is marching towards extinction in the wild as the slaughter of this magnificent beast continues to rise each year. Poaching is not simply a nuisance, it is an epidemic as lethal as the Black Death that gripped Europe in ancient times. Images of savagely butchered rhinos increase almost on a daily basis, and the threat of penalties for poaching if caught are not a real deterrent.

photo courtesy of The Australian Rhino Project

In 2010 recorded rhino deaths from poaching was 333, which rose to 1215 in 2014, an increase of almost 400% in four years. Penalties for poaching are not deterring the poachers, not when the bounty for a well shaped and intact horn is between $750,000 to $1 million. Rhino horn brings in more per ounce than cocaine or even gold. Those who do the actual slaughter do not see such huge profits, they are paid only a tiny percentage, but to the Africans it is still more than what they can earn working for a year, making it a risk worth taking.

True there are those who believe that saving the rhino is of great national importance. At this rate rhino deaths will overtake births between 2016 and 2018, and extinction of this magnificent beast will be ensured. Local rangers patrol the vast lands of Kruger National Park in South Africa but the land is both tough and massive in its breadth. Another effort to save the rhino has been under way, by moving rhino into Northern Botswana at the edge of the Okavango Delta.

This project has serious merit, yet the Okavango Delta region is not a fenced area, leaving the rhino open to poachers. The Kruger National Park has its own rangers and government support yet it is one of the main killing fields of rhino. Northern Botswana has the same potential; it is simply a different location.

In Australia an alternative project has been launched that provides a truly safe location for the rhino from poaching regardless of how high the price for the horn climbs. The Australian Rhino Project was formed by two men, Ray Dearlove and Allan Davies, with one focused goal in mind; to establish breeding herds of white and black rhino in Australia as an insurance population for the two species facing the threat of extinction.

Ray Dearlove was born and educated in South Africa and emigrated to Australia in 1987, yet his love and link to his homeland never left him. In May 2013 he was contacted by a group of people in South Africa concerned with the increasing slaughter of the rhino and the very real fear of their extinction in the wild. Dearlove found himself faced with an incredible idea; to establish a breeding herd of both white and black rhino in Australia. He decided to take this idea further by contacting a long time friend, Allan Davies.

Davies is an Australian-born businessman with some 40 years experience in the Australian and international coal industry. He is a registered mine manager in South Africa, and together with his wife Lyn Davies, joined Ray and Margaret Dearlove in an adventure to save the rhino from extinction.

Dearlove and Davies contacted Professor David Emery, Pro-Dean and Professor of Parasitology with the Veterinary Faculty at the University of Syndey. Together with Jackie Dalton, Development Officer at the Veterinary Foundation from the University of Sydney, it was decided that the Taronga Conservation Society of Australia had to be part of this project for any real chance of success.

Taronga's experience was to be the key; its black rhino program at its Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, some five hours from Sydney, has bred more animals than anywhere else outside of Africa. At the same time, Davies secured the approval of the South African authorities, and in December 2013 the Australian Rhino Project was launched.

The plan is to bring 80 rhinos to Australia, developing a breeding herd as insurance against extinction. Once, or if, the situation stabilises the rhinos and its prodigy will be put back into the wild, and not only in South Africa. It is a monstrous task costing approximately $8 million. The cost for one rhino is one hundred thousand dollars, with the bulk of the cost going to air transportation.

Ray Dearlove, Co-founder The Australian Rhino Project

Upon touchdown in Australia, Ray Dearlove told Mayorgate, “The rhinos will go into quarantine (as per the Australian government's laws), thereafter the rhinos will move to one of several locations, for fairly obvious reasons these locations will not be disclosed. All movement of endangered species is governed by CITES [the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora] – to which we adhere to the letter.

Mayorgate asked Dearlove why was he doing this, what was he going to get from it? His response was clear. “Alexander this is a personal passion. I am not paid by anyone. I do this because I believe that if I or you or others don't do something about it, who will? We cannot let these animals become extinct on our watch.

Indeed the question is, who will? WWF-South Africa announced in 2010 the first World Rhino Day, an idea that germinated in the mind and heart of Lisa Jane Campbell of Chishakwe Ranch in Zimbabwe. A Global March Against Extinction was held in London on October 3rd and 4th this year, focusing on both elephants and rhinos. But awareness is not needed here in the West, the demand for tusks and horns stream from China and Vietnam. Memorandums of Understanding have been signed between China and South Africa, yet the slaughter continues. It is not only the rhino that poachers butcher; the elephant population has dropped from 109,051 in 2009 to 43,330 in 2014.

Recent news of a 66-year old Chinese woman with ties to the Chinese and Tanzanian elite, Yang Feng Glan, arrested in Dares Salaam, Tanzania for smuggling 700 tusks brings only shock and revulsion. Corruption is an important key behind the smuggling which supplies an insane demand – no MOU can pierce through that.

Rhino horn is used by the Vietnamese and Chinese because they believe it will help a man with an erection and will wipe away a hangover. Yet the horn is nothing but keratin, and for this the slaughter of rhinos has increased from 333 to 1215 in just four years.

Will an MOU or a march through the streets of London stop a man like Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe? For his 91st birthday, he fed his guests a young elephant, buffaloes, sables, impalas and more, while a lion and crocodile were slaughtered, stuffed and presented to him as gifts. This indifference to life is beyond alarming.

It is undeniable that there are brave individuals like Ray Dearlove and Allan Davies, who believe that we cannot simply sit back and do nothing. Rangers in the Kruger National Park, together with people like Chris Palmer, risk their lives to stop poachers. Yet the slaughter continues, fueled by a demand based on nothing more than superstition, a demand that will not slow down for the foreseeable future.

The time has come for real and constructive action before it is too late. The Australian Rhino Project in its September 2015 newsletter finished with these words from Ray Dearlove: “Not for one moment do we suggest that our proposal to build this breeding herd in Australia is the answer, rather it is but one strand in a complex strategy in the fight against the poaching of these iconic animals. We leave you with one thought. Please do not think that extinction in the wild 'won't happen'. Just a few weeks ago we were informed that the Sumatran Rhino became extinct in the wild in Malaysia.”

Can anyone willingly allow these creatures to be wiped off the face of this Earth and not want to do something to save them?

No man, woman or child can remain blind or untouched by the suffering captured in the still eyes of a slain rhino. Equally there is no human being as a guardian of a tear drop of compassion who can become deaf to the cries of loss emanating from a baby rhino cub. In our hands, we have the power to change all of this.