Concern for the rhino, under worsening assault by poachers and transcontinental syndicates dealing in its prized horn, has in the last year or so dwarfed most conservation issues in South Africa.
Poachers butchered 668 rhinos last year, and it remains cause for alarm as the toll reached 57 in January, 42 of them in the Kruger National Park, six in KwaZulu-Natal. The destruction was so jarring that the National Press Club in Pretoria even named the rhino the newsmaker of the year.
Four poachers were shot dead last month, 18 were arrested, new measures are afoot to grow the endangered black rhino herd, sniffer dogs are being used to screen traffic at the Kruger Park’s gates... Alas, the appetite for rhino horn goes on, and so does the story.
Two news reports in this newspaper on Tuesday were a reminder, though, that conservation battles are being fought on many fronts.
In a world first, a George fisherman was given a suspended sentence last week for catching a great white shark at Mossel Bay’s Beacon Point. Citizen activism saw the culprit identified and brought to book.
In Manguzi on the North Coast, a magistrate sent away two men on Monday for three years each for “harvesting” 134 Tonga cycads worth more than R100 000. The pair had apparently been offered R500 for each plant.
A year ago, another magistrate in northern KZN sentenced the killer of an endangered loggerhead turtle to seven years. The 54-year-old butcher had wanted the meat and the muti.
One of this country’s primary assets, its environment, is under constant threat. Against an ominous backdrop of pollution and climate change, uncaring or ruthless individuals and groups are making it their work to decimate our fauna and flora, for motives ranging from hunger to profit.
The battle against them must intensify, and involvement by citizens who see and hear things is key to this.