“This is a war, no question about it. And right now, we are losing it”… I may be paraphrasing the words of the legendary wildlife veterinarian, Pete Rogers, but this unequivocally captures his sentiment concerning rhino #conservation.
We’ve spent the past two days embedded at the South African Wildlife Collegeas part of the Comanis Foundation #RhinoFacts Media Tour, hoping to make sense of what is an undeniably complex issue. And as per usual, one tends to walk away with more questions than answers.
One fact that stands out as clear as daylight is that current models and thinking have become obsolete in protecting our rhino. This was cruelly illustrated when word came that our demo with the #K9 Reaction Unit had been canceled: two poaching incidents required both packs of hounds – and Dog Master par excellence, Johan van Straaten – on the ground and in hot pursuit.
Instead, we woke at a darkzone 3am to set off into a stark ghost-land of shifting silhouettes and shadows, in search of a platoon of trainee rangers in an undisclosed location here on the edge of #KrugerNP. These are the front-line soldiers in the ever shifting anti-wildlife crime battleground, and we arrived just in time to see them taking their first-light observation positions.
These men and women – across the full spectrum of South Africa’s #RainbowNation – are unashamedly committed to protecting ‘their wildlife’. “We have to make life and death decisions here, either during contact with poachers, or when coming face to face with dangerous game”, their sergeant explains. In the early hours of that morning, the guards had to alert the platoon of the presence of a lioness and three young cubs in camp, and it soon becomes crystal clear why the paramilitary training is an absolute necessity.
Our dinner under a giant bushveldt tree and starry skies – not to mention our sanitized urban lives – are infinitely removed from the hard realities here at the conservation coal face. Keep this in mind the next time you spout your personally packaged little conservation sound-byte, and consider for a moment how much you understand about the real situation on the ground.
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