Thursday, January 5, 2012

More Trouble with Rhinos

 Apologies for missing my post two weeks ago, and thanks to Stan for posting the previous rhino story for me. The internet was very shaky where I was; I suppose that's part of the fun of being there. But I'm sorry I missed all the Christmas and New Year fun on MIE at the time, although I've enjoyed catching up. I just love Jeff's poem!

Now here's the follow-up piece I was trying to post two weeks ago:

My White Christmas Rhino - Photo by Aron Frankental
Somewhat over a year ago, I was at my place in in the African bush watching elephants bathing in the river and writing about rhinos. I’m there again today and an elephant is busy demolishing a tree at the back of the bungalow.

It’s in the high nineties. Not much chance of a white Christmas unless it’s a white rhino. And white rhinos aren’t white anyway. The common name is a corruption of the Dutch word wijd which means wide, and the name comes from the wide mouth as opposed to the more pointy mouth of the so-called black rhino, which isn’t really black. Let’s move on before this gets too confusing.
The point is that there haven’t been any black rhinos here for quite a while. They used to occur in this area and the habitat is ideal for them. That’s the case for much of the so-called lowveld (low-lying bush country) of the north-east of South Africa.

Black or Hook-lipped Rhino
So as a conservation initiative the World Wild Life Fund has relocated 20 black rhinos from a breeding programme elsewhere in South Africa to a suitable location somewhere in the lowveld.  No one’s saying where.  It’s a big gamble because the animals are very valuable, and if they decide to wonder out of the game conservation area, they’ll be prey for poachers who can get big money for their horns.  But the motivation is to have an additional group develop in a good habitat, hopefully providing a kernel for a new black rhino population.  Wherever they are, they’ll be protected by electric fences, armed anti-poaching guards and high-tech security surveillance.

The threat to the survival of the African rhinos is nothing new.  In the sixties, when I lived in Kenya, the population of black rhinos was around 100,000.  They were fun to see in the bush, but nothing special.  Thirty years later the population had dropped to just 2,500, but now the numbers have doubled.  So things looked up but the numbers were still very low.

Rolling hills of Zululand
The white rhino story was even more dramatic.  The population crashed to only 50 a century ago and the species was hanging onto survival in the wild in only a few isolated spots.  A group of twenty were in (what was then) Natal on the eastern side of South Africa, and two areas - Hluhluwe and Umfolozi -became the first proclaimed game reserves in Africa in an attempt to save the species.  A few other spots did the same but with less success. I remember seeing one of the last of the northern race in Uganda in the early sixties. The race now exists only in captivity.   But thanks to the efforts at Umfolozi, the southern white rhino did amazingly well – the population has climbed to around 20,000.  Umfolozi now has nearly 2,000 - the carrying capacity of the area - and has resettled thousands across southern Africa.  You see them quite frequently in the Kruger National Park now and all of that is due to the commitment of the people at Umfolozi.
White or Square-lipped Rhino at Umfolozi
In my previous post, I naively hoped that a spate of arrests and convictions might stop the poaching in South Africa at least.  But the stakes are too high.  Recently reported a shoot out between Kruger National Park officials and five Mozambique soldiers, one of whom was killed and another injured.  Even our small game reserve has been attached by rhino poachers - a shoot out resulted in no dead rhinos, one dead poacher and - wait for it - one of our game guards in jail on a culpable homicide charge.
Conservation officials now believe that the poaching of rhinos for their horns has reached the “tipping point”.  That is the point in population dynamics at which the death rate exceeds the birth rate and the species starts to decline in numbers.  If the poaching continues at the same pace, you don’t have to be a mathematician to see that the species is on the way to extinction.

So what I want for Christmas is a sighting of healthy, free rhinos.  That makes it a white Christmas for me.  And then I want to be able to see them again next Christmas.

Michael - Thursday

PS. At least I got the first part of my wish - see the first picture.


  1. It's hard to imagine the shortsightedness of it all. But then again, we live in shortsighted times.

    Thank God you're back with the spectacles.

  2. And may all your Christmases be white...

  3. Yes, but it's another example of how belief will trump science every time.

  4. Great stuff Michael - great pic too. I looked a bit like a rhino on christmas day, but that's eggnog for you...

  5. Just so no one thinks your nose will cure cancer in that state!