A dead rhino lies on the ground after approximately 9 gunmen armed with automatic rifles poached the two white rhino and cut off their horns on the Potgieter game farm close to Vaalwater, Limpopo. Picture: Jennifer Bruce
A dead rhino lies on the ground after approximately 9 gunmen armed with automatic rifles poached the two white rhino and cut off their horns on the Potgieter game farm close to Vaalwater, Limpopo. Picture: Jennifer Bruce

Poaching of our rhino must be stopped

Time of article published May 25, 2011

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Almost weekly one reads of another heart-breaking story of rhino being killed for their horns, which have now become more valuable than gold and diamonds. It would appear that merchants, prepared to pay exorbitant prices and, often originating from the Far East, are the main culprits as well as the bloodthirsty, well-paid poachers, their agents and the couriers and others in a US dollar-based add-on criminal massacre.

One can only feel immense rage, despair, and sympathy for the callous, macabre and cold-blooded shooting and immense suffering of these divine, amazing and defenceless creatures and their young.

I read an article recently in SANParks’ “Wild” magazine which gives the statistics and growing numbers of rhinos killed in the country which, incidentally, has the highest population of any rhino species in the world. It tells the story of Ezemvelo’s veterinary scientist, Dr Dave Cooper, selflessly cancelling his annual leave, assisted by dedicated rangers, helicopter pilot and others, darting and saving a rhino calf whose mother had been shot and barbarically dehorned in Opathe game reserve located adjacent to “The Valley of the Kings”, in northern Zululand. This was not the first calf orphaned in this manner. A photograph received recently showing a grieving baby white rhino standing with its head against the head of its dead, de-horned and bloodied mother is heart rending.

Imagine the total sadness and despair that this poor baby animal was suffering. Would it ever trust a human again?

The hunting of rhino was once forbidden in Zulu lore. Are they losing the battle'? Dave expresses his growing despair. Statistically, l believe, more than 30 rhino have been slaughtered this year alone in Ezemvelo Parks and game “sanctuaries”, 315 known cases country-wide last year and 2011 on the way to surpassing this statistic by a long way!

It is time for this country, its responsible people and the government to act, and act fast before the last black and white rhinoceros are forever lost in history! Dead as a “(Dodo) Rhino?” Think about it? The thought brings tears to my eyes. This is by no means an idiotic or far-fetched statement and bares an awful reality. We CANNOT leave it any longer to the dedicated few who we owe so much to!

I know there has been a “bosberaad” held by the wildlife authorities, NGOs and government officials, and various opinions have been expressed on how best to combat this scourge. I see few positive results, so far!

Four or five weeks ago, a KZN magistrate sentence a rhino poacher to an effective jail sentence to run, unusually, consecutively as the magistrate considered his jurisdiction for the maximum sentence he could impose for the shooting of a rhino in the Umfolosi National Park, too lenient. Consequently this “murderer” now has to spend the next 10 years behind bars. Hats off to the magistrate concerned. That is, unless some sympathetic judge reduces the sentence on review.

My suggestions to help stop this crime:

1. A once-off 30 days (only) amnesty to any person, syndicate or organisation and accessory who have a rhino horn or part of a rhino horn in his or her possession (legally or otherwise) or knowledge of any rhino horn or part therefore, which must be handed over to named authorities appointed to deal with the matter. Persons who have knowledge of the existence or horn etc must advise those authorities. This will enable the appointees to scientifically match any DNA of rhino which have been poached over the years and those persons are fingerprinted and listed in a data-bank for use in any subsequent offence(s).

2. Thereafter a once-off auction is held by the authorities with invitations being extended to those known “off-shore” US millionaires (perhaps billionaires) who pay exorbitant prices for “their” precious “gold”. Each and every person attending the sale must be advised of the consequences should they involve themselves or their agents in further poaching activities. Our government must liaise with all countries accordingly and urge their co-operation and the matter to be disseminated. The purchasers to be given a permit and instructed to remove these items from the country within a certain period of time.

3. The proceeds from the sale must be paid over to each and every one who has responded to the amnesty (except for illegal horn) save for the cost of the auction and a 5% or 10% levy be deducted which must be invested in the Save the Rhinoceros Foundation Trust (SRFT) managed by a responsible NGO.

4. These proceeds are not be handed to anyone proven to have had in his possession any rhino horn connected to illegally poached rhino DNA, but to be paid over in full to the SRFT.

5. A dedicated team of conservation units must be “head-hunted” within and outside our borders to form anti-poaching units in all areas where our precious, exotic and threatened fauna and flora are. They must be remunerated, suitably equipped and given bonuses for their dedication and for their commitment to a dangerous occupation. This will be supplemented by my suggestion made in point number 3. Currently they face armed gangs and put their lives on the line against these highly dangerous people.

6. Government to liaise with all countries adjacent to our borders to enable and authorise our personnel (5 above and subject to identification) doing “follow-up” to enter into those countries to apprehend any perpetrator(s) and face trial for any offence relating to our wildlife and floral heritage.

7. From reading recent articles in the paper and elsewhere, the government will be deploying the army to our borders and perhaps other areas to protect those areas and dis-encourage poaching from across our borders. I feel that these units should merely be used in support of the anti-poaching units. History will show that army personnel deployed in wild ife areas sometimes become the poachers themselves. Some, even of senior rank, couldn’t care a hoot!

8. Government HAS to change its legislation here and now! A mandatory prison sentence of 10 years without the option of a fine MUST be imposed for anyone who is found with or connected to rhino horn, ivory or other wild animal parts and/or found to be in any protected area (private or public) poaching any game animal. “Poaching” must include anyone seen carrying any form of weapon, accompanied by dogs, snares or other hunting “accessories”. Damn the person who is found in a national park or game sanctuary in possession of a firearm and other paraphernalia and says, “Oh, I forgot I had it and forgot to declare it at the entrance gate”. A fine is no good!

9. A similar first offence should be awarded with a similar sentence for being an accessory to, during and after the offence is committed. Any person caught within our borders in possession of any part of any game animal (rhino horn in particular) must face an equally “draconian” sentence without the option of a fine. This pertains to couriers and anyone associated with the offence. Beware those callous veterinarians, helicopter pilots, gun bearers, culpable wives, partners and women and others involved!

10. All land, buildings, vehicles and other items belonging to each and every person associated with such a crime should be forfeited to the state, be auctioned off and the proceeds invested in the SRFT. It is often found that these material items are in the name of wives, girlfriends, children or trusts. These should be forfeited likewise if proven to have been paid for by the convicted. principal accused.

11. Subsequent offenders must have their sentences doubled!

12. Thereafter, anyone who comes into possession of any rhino horn or has knowledge of any other person having in his possession a rhino horn (or part thereof) will be required to hand over or inform the authorities, and every five years these to be sold as described in item 2, above.

I could carry on ad infinitum about my thoughts and feelings on this horrendous matter and I guess I may become unpopular with anyone who does not share my views. I suppose some might say “Far too harsh!”!

Drastic, I agree, but can this country continue in the same vein when dealing with these bloodthirsty criminals who commit these dastardly and heinous offences?

Do we ever hear of people trafficking in drugs in Singapore? One enters Changi airport and a sign for all arrivals to read in English and other vernacular, “You are warned! Possession of drugs WILL result in a mandatory death sentence!” No alternative mentioned (the word “may” is not used) and the judges are required to impose the maximum penalty. Am I being too harsh?

Dr Player, Dr Cooper, my very good friend Rusty Hustler in the far-north, each and every person dedicated to the preservation of wild fauna and flora – we must collectively applaud and stand behind you and deliver!

I am worried! Very, very worried! Let’s save our wildlife before it’s too late….God forbid

WALLIE LATHAM

ESHOWE

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