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WORDSMITHS AND CONSERVATION

South Africa is a poacher’s paradise. Elephants, lions, pangolins, vultures, eagles and many other species are at risk from criminals who kill and sell animals and birds for profit, and with relative impunity. South Africa has been identified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a conservation ‘hot spot’ that needs an unusually high level of protection against risks such as habitat degradation and professional criminal activity.

Wordsmiths Nature is an active participant in meaningful nature conservation. We help to fund a carefully chosen, highly effective organization that targets poachers and rhino-horn agents.

The group we are working with keeps a low profile. They refer to themselves by a name that very few people know. They have no website. They don’t advertise. They don’t give interviews. They don’t do presentations. They don’t wear badges. They have neither a logo nor a slogan.

They just save rhinos (and many other species). They wage war on professional rhino hunters. They expose corrupt officials – in the government, in the police and SANDF, and among SANParks staff – who profit from illegal rhino horn trading; and they help to prosecute hunters, agents and buyers.

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The Plight of the Rhino: Myths, Lies and the Truth

  • The Northern White Rhino is functionally extinct. As of 25 July 2018 only two individuals were left, both protected in a conservancy in Kenya.
  • The Black Rhino is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as ‘Critically Endangered’. The next category is ‘Extinct in the Wild’. In 1900 several hundred thousand Black Rhino lived in Africa. Southern Africa’s Black Rhino population declined from 70 000 in 1970 to 2 410 in 1995 – a 96% loss in 25 years, purely due to poaching. Three subspecies are already extinct. Extinction is not just something that happened to forgotten species thousands or millions of years ago: the West African Black Rhinoceros was declared extinct in November 2011.
  • International trade in rhino horn was declared illegal by CITES in 1976, and domestic trade was banned in South Africa in 2009. This domestic ban was overturned in a court case in 2017, and elements in the South African government are presently lobbying for the establishment of a legal rhino horn trade industry.
  • A powdered rhino horn weighing 3kg will sell on the street in Asia for around US$ 300 000. The rhino horn trade is worth about US$ 225 million annually.
  • The industry players are absolutely ruthless. They have virtually unlimited funds, and they kill people who get in their way.

The Lies and the Myths

The Truth

Poachers are poor rural people who are victims of a failed economy that cannot provide them with honest work. They are just trying to scrape a living and feed their families.

The shooters are professional hunters equipped with sophisticated military-grade tracking equipment and weaponry. They make huge amounts of money from selling rhino horn (up to R 150 000 for a single horn), and they typically drive expensive German luxury cars.

The true culprits are the Chinese and Vietnamese buyers and end-users.

The industry is directed and sustained by immensely wealthy South African intermediate agents who buy product from the hunters and sell it on to the international buyers.

The South African government is doing its best to eliminate poaching.

Before Jacob Zuma became president in 2009, the plight of the rhino was under control. Since then, far from addressing the problem with commitment and determination, the government has allowed high-placed individuals in its ranks to benefit from the rhino horn industry. Public officials at all levels have enriched themselves by accepting bribes and participating in the poaching industry in various ways.

Legalised trade in rhino horn will help save the species by eliminating poaching.

Legalised trade in rhino horn will increase demand, enrich corrupt officials even more, and hasten the extinction of species.

SANParks is under-resourced and is virtually powerless to stop rhino poaching.

SANParks has sophisticated equipment which is not being used to good effect. Some isolated rangers and officials are doing their best, but bribery has infiltrated even SANParks personnel.

The SA Police and SANDF actively and effectively arrest poachers and dealers, and confiscate poached rhino horns.

Hunters and agents transport rhino horn blatantly. They buy their
way out of road blocks with lavish bribes. Court dockets disappear, and evidence is destroyed.

The Save the Rhino Foundation has the situation under control. The Southern White Rhino has been dragged back from the brink of extinction, and is now out of danger.

The Southern White Rhino was saved from extinction at the hands of trophy hunters by good governance in the early 20th century. The Save the Rhino Foundation, and other high-profile conservation groups, despite doing commendable work in various other ways, have been totally ineffective against horn poachers in the 21st century.

... and the biggest lie of all

Powdered rhino horn has useful medicinal and therapeutic qualities.

NO: It’s made of keratin: you’d be better off biting your nails.

The problems

We have a Special responsibility

  • Huge misunderstanding among the general public: Of course we deplore and condemn the cruel practice of poaching with snares, but the truth is that the loss of the odd impala caught to feed a hungry family will have no noticeable impact on
    the future of South Africa’s wild life. The rhino poaching industry is a competely different matter, on a totally different scale.

  • Complacency: ‘I’m sure the poaching can’t be as serious as they tell us.’ But it is, and it’s even worse.

  • Apathy: ‘It’s not my problem.’ ‘What can I do?’ But worst of all: ‘So what?’ No. It really is your problem, and you can do a lot.

The vast majority (80%) of the world’s rhinos live in our country. If we don’t act, nobody else can save them. We applaud the well-meaning conferences, awareness campaigns and education programmes of the fashionable rhino protection groups. However, their activities have had little effect on the poaching crisis. They are not the solution.

The Solution: Together we can make a difference

The organisation with which we are working is making a real difference, by means of protection patrols, elimination of shooters, and exposure of bribery and corruption. But their main success is the prosecution of the agents who manage the logistics of the industry.

Without the agents, the system collapses: the end-buyers, located overseas, have no direct access to the hunters who kill the animals and offer the horns for sale. Prosecution involves endless, meticulous information-gathering in order to compile a docket of evidence that will stand up indestructibly in court. The information-gatherers are confidential informers who risk their lives every day.

We need money to save the rhino. On one level, we need many millions to buy tracking vehicles, aircraft and CCTV cameras, and to pay more personnel, but we can do a great deal with small private contributions, if there are enough of them: R 20 000 keeps a confidential informer in the field for a month, and his information helps us put agents – our critical target – in jail. Last year a court handed down a jail sentence of 178 years against Mandla Chauke, a poacher and murderer we helped to prosecute. We are effective and successful.

Please make an EFT donation, however small, and better still please make a regular monthly contribution, by debit order through your Internet banking system. It doesn’t have to be a lot. Every rand that you donate will go directly to our operation: no admin costs whatsoever. Please be generous.

We can’t advertise what we are doing, because if our operatives were identified it could cost them their lives. That is how serious this is. But they are fighting a valiant and increasingly successful battle, and we can win the war against rhino poaching with your help.

We will keep you regularly updated as to how much we have raised, and without revealing the identity of our operators in the field we will keep you informed of successes achieved.

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