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Ian Bales-Smith has some suggestions that the government could initiate or develop more fully to save the rhino.

Durban - In the internationally acknowledged book The Last Rhinos, Lawrence Anthony, with Graham Spence, pays tribute “to the courage of Ian Player, Nick Steel, Kes and Frazer Hamilton Smith and those other brave men and women who spent their lives trying to protect and save one of the most magnificent creatures to have graced this earth: the rhinoceros”.

Referring to the protection of the rhino from extinction, the closing page of the book says: “The true cost will be the soul of the planet if we do not succeed.”

Approximately 50 to 60 years ago the few rhino that remained in southern Africa were saved from extinction in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Parks by the incredible efforts of Player and his colleagues.

These efforts received acclaim worldwide. The Hluhluwe-Imfolozi rhino populations were the nucleus of future rhino herds throughout southern Africa and elsewhere. (This is what is referred to in the first paragraph above.)

In October 2001 Nelson Mandela and the visionary Anton Rupert opened a stretch of fencing between the Kruger National Park and the Banhine Park in Mozambique.

This area, linked to Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou National Park, marked the formation of the world’s greatest animal sanctuary.

To mark this occasion a herd of 25 elephant were handed over to Mozambique by Nelson Mandela. More than 5 000 wild animals were translocated from the Kruger into Mozambique and about 50km of game fencing separating the Kruger from Mozambique were removed.

Mapungubwe, a World Heritage Site in Limpopo, has a history going back many hundreds of years to the period 1220 to 1290.

It was at Mapungubwe that a gold-plated rhino was found and now embodies the spirit of the African Renaissance and signifies the Order of Mapungubwe. Nelson Mandela was the first recipient.

In 1995, Mandela presented George Monibot with a UN Global 500 Award for outstanding environmental achievement.

To quote George Monibot: “The current generation is the most privileged to have lived. This is because, compared to those who have gone before, the current generation has the best medical technology to keep us healthy and living longer, the best communications systems to have existed, the cheapest and fastest forms of global travel and the best (generally speaking) standards of living yet experienced on Earth.

“Compared to future generations, we are also likely to enjoy the most stable climate, better environmental health, cleaner water and more plentiful resources from which we generate our wealth, health and livelihoods. But this good fortune places a great responsibility on us, and it is the current generation that has the most important role to play in ensuring that future generations are indeed not less well off than we are, and are not burdened with having to fix our mistakes and clean up our messes.

“Our challenge is to use the advantages we have over previous generations and turn them into gifts for the next, by leaving a planet that is better off for our existence, and healthier as a result of the advancements that we should be using for much more than our immediate, but short-term, benefit at the expense of the generations yet to come.”

Surely, therefore, with man’s capabilities and resources, and being mindful of the pressing need to protect our heritage, we can save our precious rhino from extinction.

Drastic, serious and urgent action is required – no measurable progress has been made over the recent few years and we are now losing rhino at a rate that exceeds their reproductive capacity.

We are the custodians of our wildlife and are responsible for ensuring that future generations should enjoy our natural heritage.

We cannot escape the fact that wildlife is being slaughtered by poachers, mainly to satisfy the demands of people in Asia and the East. Most poaching incursions are via Mozambique:

* Rhino are slaughtered for their horn.

* Elephant are slaughtered for their ivory.

* Lion are slaughtered for their bones.

Despite the commendable efforts to fight poaching by individuals and conservation groups, we do not appear to be making significant gains against poachers and the syndicates controlling them. Greater effort is, therefore, required by the government.

It would appear that the poacher organisations are always one step ahead and that there is not enough commitment by our government to win the war. There is a feeling among a large number of people that the authorities simply do not have the will or commitment to rectify the crisis.

The following are some suggestions that the government could initiate or develop more fully:

* Clandestine operations into adjoining areas, particularly along the borders of the parks and reserves. If well-executed, the intelligence thus gained could lead to many successes in establishing who the poachers are and who they work for.

* Trade sanctions against Mozambique until it implements the necessary controls and measures to stop the action of poachers and the movement of animal products through the country.

* Better linkages and integration with bordering communities so that they benefit from “ownership” of the natural resources. Dr Bandile Mkhize (KwaZulu-Natal Ezemvelo-Wildlife) has spoken about the role of “community warriors” in this regard, but it is doubtful that there is adequate management to effectively link such “community warriors” to the authorities so that action can be taken.

* Improve the internal management systems within our parks to minimise the existing opportunities that enable poaching to continue with relative ease.

Surely man, with his substantial knowledge and extensive resources, must be capable of preventing extinction?

* Ian Bales-Smith is a Durban-based consultant, tourism guide and regular visitor to several game parks and nature reserves in southern Africa.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

The Mercury