Minister of finance Pravin Gordan L, Howard Buffet (C) and Water and environmental affairs Edna Molewa during a R255M cheque handover from the Howard Buffet foundation at the Standank Bank offices in Rosebank. Picture:Paballo Thekiso

Johannesburg - Howard Buffett held up a dramatic photograph of a bloodied rhino, its horn brutally chopped off. But the billionaire philanthropist wasn’t here to talk about conservation but how poaching was fuelling conflict across Africa.

“You think about the pain of that animal,” said the elder son of Warren Buffett, the billionaire investor, as he handed a cheque of R255 million to SANParks to fight poaching, at a meeting in Rosebank.

“But what I would show you are pictures of women who have been raped, the refugee camp of 60 000 people, the victims of the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) who have been returned to their family after 15 years. When you see what conflict does to people, you cannot look way. And this conflict is fuelled by rhino horns and elephant ivory. It’s a global scandal, a wildlife crisis, but it takes a huge human toll. That’s the part we cannot forget.”

The donation by the Howard G Buffett Foundation – the biggest of its kind to tackle rhino poaching – is a three-year initiative in Kruger National Park to test anti-poaching tactics that could be applied in other regions of Africa, where poaching can be a source of funding for armed groups such as the LRA and al-Shabaab.

The effort in Kruger will create an Intensive Protection Zone using sophisticated detection and tracking equipment and infrastructure on the ground and in the air; elite canine units and highly-trained ranger teams, and improved intelligence gathering and observation and surveillance systems.

Kruger’s zone will serve as a testing ground to inform targeted efforts to combat poaching in other African regions.

Buffett, who had sold his three rhinos in Limpopo “because we couldn’t protect them”, said he was a conservationist at heart, and this was an experiment in peace.

“For us, the only way you can have peace in some parts of the world is to stop the capital flow of people who cause that conflict, and poaching, particularly of elephants; but rhino horn too is a big part of that.”

Edna Molewa, the minister of environmental affairs, said the record loss of 1 004 rhino and 172 so far this year was devastating.

“But we believe this could have doubled or even trebled without the contributions made by government, and the donations of millions of rand by private individuals, foundations, businesses and conservation bodies to fight rhino poaching.”

SANParks chief executive David Mabunda termed the donation a “game changer” that would deliver technology such as drones with thermal cameras. “We need to know when the poachers pitch up on our border so that we’re ready for them and have a kind of welcome for them.” - The Saturday Star