February 10, 2017: I have spent much of the past week touring some of the areas many private game parks and reserves, and have spent many hours discussing poaching issues with the owners and their heads of security, including Lombardini Game Farm where three adult rhinos were poached and a youngster, the much beloved Hope (now tragically deceased), had her face hacked off. (More details of the story here)
Several common themes have emerged from conversations at game farms and preserves. First they would all like to see the South African government make anti poaching measures a top priority. Right now very few resources are devoted to it. For example there are 1,700 detectives actively working crime in the Eastern Cape and yet only 3 are assigned to wildlife crime!!
Secondly poaching is conducted by highly organized criminal syndicates who spend months beforehand checking out potential targets. They have become experts in their disgusting line of work and the only way to provide the rhinos with any real protection is to increase the number of armed guards patrolling the areas 24/7. This is something most private owners simply can’t afford to do.
Third – they all actively promote the fact they have rhinos as they are their star attractions at their facilities. They understand it’s a double edged sword but they’re willing to take the risk as they really need the income the animals generate. Some of them post regularly on Facebook and authorized me to do the same. It’s one reason why a number of them favor legalizing rhino horn sales which in their view would generate significant funding for their operations.
Just yesterday the news broke that the government is now seriously considering allowing the sale of “domestic” horns – whatever that means – but there’s a very determined and passionate number who feel such a move would be fatal. I agree with them but have to admit that the supporters of legalization offer some very compelling arguments.
I’m headed south later for my meeting with Ian Michler, the man who risked his life to produce the documentary “Blood Lions” the dramatic expose of the canned lion hunting industry that is big business here in SA.