KwaZulu-Natal - The fight against rhino poaching has been given a boost after the 10 chiefs (amakhosi) living around the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in northern KwaZulu-Natal – where dozens of rhinos have been killed in recent years – committed themselves and their communities to ending the slaughter.
The commitment of the chiefs, which goes hand-in-hand with a billboard and SMS campaign as well as an awareness programme, is being hailed as “unprecedented” as it gets the 120 000 people living around the park actively involved in fighting poaching.
It comes after Dr Bandile Mkhize, CEO of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, recently held a meeting with the 10 chiefs at the park’s Centenary Centre where they agreed to support a fresh campaign to end poaching.
“I am overwhelmed by this incredible show of unity from our traditional leaders. Really, to see such enthusiasm humbles me, especially their huge concern at this ongoing poaching of our rhinos,” Mkhize said.
“To those who care to listen, we are all going to do everything within our power to crack down on these people who think they can invade our protected areas and destroy our natural heritage.”
The initiatives announced by Mkhize include a deal with cellphone operator MTN where people can send an SMS with the word SAVE to 44135 to donate R1.50 towards a special anti-rhino poaching fund. Mkhize also revealed a sponsorship by Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) that would see 100 people from the communities becoming part of Ezemvelo’s ambassadors programme.
Each chief was asked to select 10 people from each community, all of whom would be sent on a month-long conservation and rhino protection awareness course this month. This course would be run by the Wildlife College. After the completion of the training, the leaders would return to their communities and become ambassadors for conservation and the protection of rhino, Mkhize said.
The course was expected to start today. Also, the chiefs have each volunteered to have billboards erected in their areas advertising the anti-rhino poaching campaign, which will culminate in a “10 000 Voices For Our Rhino” march in Matubatuba on October 19.
Mkhize said the future of conservation lay in people’s well-being.
“People come first and that is why I invest so much time in our communities explaining the significance of our natural world and the benefits they enjoy from it. But as much as I do this, I equally, and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, have to address their basic needs and sense of well-being,” he said.
“It is this balancing act that ensures our protected areas are coveted for the magnificence they hold, for our communities and for all the people who visit them.”
Daniel Hlabisa, of the Mpembeni Community Traditional Authority, and spokesman for the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park amakhosi, said the communities were fully behind the initiative.
“Let it be said we are completely unified in our wish to stamp out this dreadful poaching,” he said.
“We appreciate our wildlife heritage and embrace it as part of our culture. The rhino is a core component of our Big 5 and we are aware that protected areas like HiP [Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park] are crucial for our regional economy. We all support tourism as this forms such a big part of our working lives.”
The initiative comes as rhino poaching continues, with statistics showing that 13 rhinos were killed in the park this year.
Nationally, at least 373 rhinos have been killed since the beginning of this year – 229 of them in the Kruger National Park.
Dr Joseph Okori, head of the WWF Rhino Programme, welcomed the Ezemvelo initiative.
“Communities are the front line in the defence of wildlife. It is up to them to ensure the survival of the species from one generation to the next,” he said. “We have seen great successes in protecting wildlife when communities are involved. We need to ensure that communities become owners of wildlife and we encourage stronger community participation in the fight against poaching.”
Jabulani Ngubane, the KZN Wildlife rhino co-ordinator, said the plan was not only to educate the communities about rhino poaching, but to get them to become partners in wildlife preservation.
“There is no war that can be fought and won without community support,” he said. “We will be training 100 men and women from these communities who will then go back to educate thousands more. We want the communities around these parks to benefit 100 percent from this initiative. We are fully committed to fighting rhino poaching and we cannot do it without the communities who live around these parks,” Ngubane said. - Daily News