Project Update - December 2015
From the beginning of 2015, the South African Government has no longer released official poaching statistics. Various sources suggest that the numbers of rhinos killed for their horns in 2015 are running at slightly more than one hundred a month - more than three a day. These statistics suggest that the total 2015 number will exceed the 2014 record of 1215 killed with a range of between 1250 to 1500 dead rhinos. There seems to be consensus that the tipping point - where the kill rate exceeds the birth rate - has now been reached. This kill rate is of grave concern particularly considering the enormous amounts of money that have been directed to the anti-poaching effort.
What is even more concerning regarding rhino poaching is that it appears to becoming more and more widespread across Southern Africa. For example, the local conservation fraternity, as well as regular visitors to the KZN iSimangaliso Wetland Park, are in mourning after the recent butchering of an iconic rhino cow and her two offspring.
The carcasses of the white rhino cow and her two sub-adult calves were recently found in KZN. See http://zululandobserver.co.za/94323/iconic-rhino-calves-savagely-poached-in-isimangaliso/
See also this link regarding poaching in Namibia and world-famous Hluhluwe Game Reserve http://www.namibian.com.na/index.php?page=read&id=34353 and http://citizen.co.za/792276/hluhluwe-rhino-death-toll-rises-to-8/#.VitaOEqvRbE.facebook
Another critical issue which is often overlooked is the sheer cost of protecting the rhino populations, including manpower, fixed and portable cameras, electric fencing, GPS devices, vehicles and drones. Longer term, this is only sustainable for national game parks and large, well–funded lodges.
Poaching – a personal account.
One of our keenest supporters is Kirstin Scholtz, the official photographer for the World Surfing League. Having just witnessed the shark attack on surfer Mick Fanning, Kirstin offered her services to take some photos of rhinos on The Australian Rhino Project’s behalf. Kirstin’s account follows:
“A few months back I was fortunate enough to visit a group of rhino in South Africa. It was an enormous privilege to be given the opportunity to photograph some of the rhino which could be making their way to Australia in 2016. These rhinos will form the foundation of the Australian Rhino Project’s ‘insurance policy’, that may prove to be crucial to the survival of the species in the wild.
Despite the electric fences, guard towers and watchdogs that have been put in place to protect the rhinos that are being taken care of here, it occurred to me that nowhere is safe for rhino in South Africa.
As we skirted the inside of the large enclosure, staying close to the fence for safety, we noticed one extremely large rhino lying under a tree away from the others who were feeding. She was waiting for them to move before she made her to way to the feed and it was as she got up, that we noticed something was horribly wrong.
The female rhino had been shot through the fence, just above her front left leg, leaving her crippled and in terrible pain.
It is heartbreaking to think about what an animal, with no natural predators and very poor eyesight, might go through during such an attack. And, watching her trying in agony to walk on only three legs was one of the most distressing sights you will ever see.
We watched as she tried in desperation to inch forward. The entire top half of her body collapsing forward as her leg buckled under her enormous weight with each step that she took. A rhino simply cannot function with three legs, and as we watched with tears rolling down our cheeks, we knew that this beautiful animal stood very little chance of survival.
A few days later we learned that she had died from her injuries. She was pregnant…….”
Is extinction really a possibility?
Often at The Australian Rhino Project we are asked this question with a degree of scepticism in the questioner’s voice, whether rhinos will really become extinct. Our answer is that whilst rhinos will always be in zoos, hopefully for eternity, the key question is ‘will they survive in the wild?’. Well, here is an answer.
Last month Nola, one of only four remaining northern white rhinos left on planet earth died. See the attached link. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-11-23/nola-one-of-last-four-northern-white-rhinos-dies/6962968
Our strong view is that action is required now, not to wait in the hope that the poaching problem will go away. It will not.
The Australian Rhino Project update
In 2013, the Australian Rhino Project was formed with the goal of establishing a breeding herd of rhinos in Australia as an ‘Insurance Population’ and as an alternative strategy to prevent extinction in the wild of the oldest mammal on the planet.
One major success for us has been the granting by the Australian Government of the DGR (Donor Gift Recipient) Status, which enables a full tax deduction for any donations that you may make. I am delighted to advise that we now have the same facility for donors and sponsors to make fully tax deductible donations in the USA, the UK and also South Africa. Please let us know if you have any difficulty in processing your donations.
We have also identified the first group of rhinos to be translocated to Australia and fundraising is in full swing. We have had a significant number of generous donations from a wonderful group of people, but, as you might expect, more funding is required.
This week we reached a major milestone when The Department of Agriculture in Canberra received comprehensive responses from their counterparts in South Africa regarding the biosecurity issues surrounding the importation of (in this case) rhinos into Australia. Understandably, Australia’s protocols are stringent and we are working with both governments to ensure compliance at all levels.
The next steps are for the Australian authorities to review the responses and to resolve any outstanding issues. Once agreement has been reached, officials from DAFF Australia will visit the quarantine facilities in South Africa and confirm the requirements for the certification of such facilities. Then, once agreement has been reached between the authorities, the rhinos can be moved into these quarantine facilities in preparation for the flight to Australia. We are enormously grateful to the Governments of both countries in supporting our plans.
These important steps mean that we are getting close to realising our goal of bringing the first rhinos to Australia as part of The Australian Rhino Project.
Security of the rhinos in Australia
An often asked question is “Will the rhinos be safe in Australia?” Our opinion is that Australia is probably the safest place on the planet for rhinos at this time. There are a number of compelling reasons for this which include:
- There is no poaching in Australia and poaching at the planned locations of the rhinos is unlikely and there would be a national outcry if there was any poaching in Australia
- There is a much lower level of poverty in Australia with no pressure on the land from surrounding communities along with minimal corruption.
- Border protection is a major focus of both the State and Federal Governments.
- There is an existing rhino population in Australia with world-class technical and medical support and the climate and vegetation are ideally suited for these animals
In the past few weeks in Australia, there has been some publicity regarding the amount of monies spent on the administration of not-for-profit organisations as a percentage of the total amount of funds that are donated. Accordingly, we thought it was opportune to update you on our position. We have only one part-time team member - Sarah Dennis - who does an extraordinary job for The Australian Rhino Project and is extremely passionate, dedicated and committed. Everyone else at The Australia Rhino Project is a volunteer and we are blessed with some very special people in our team.
Furthermore, please be assured that all donated funds are solely directed to fulfilling the plan of establishing a breeding herd of rhinos in Australia as an “Insurance population” in the event of extinction of the species in the wild. While there are other very welcome efforts in Australia to assist in the conservation of other species, the situation with rhinos is critical. This is why The Australian Rhino Project was established to focus solely on doing whatever we can to prevent the extinction in the wild of this iconic species and we thank everyone who has made a contribution over the past year. All donations are “for the rhino”
South African High Court ruling regarding the trade in rhino horn
Last month, it became legal to trade in rhino horn in South Africa after the High Court in Pretoria set aside the Government’s 2009 ban on domestic trade in rhino horn. The decision means that it is now possible for individuals to buy rhino horn within South Africa, however, international trade in rhino horn remains prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
The judge ruled that the public had not been properly informed of the decision to prohibit the trade in rhino horn and there had not been a consultative process, hence it was set aside.
The following day the South African Department of Environment Affairs moved quickly and appealed the decision of the High Court in Pretoria to lift the ban on trading in rhino horn in South Africa.
CITES is scheduled to meet in South Africa next year and the lifting of the International trade in rhino horn is expected to be on the agenda. There is a contentious view that the sale of substantial stockpiles of rhino horn will undermine the illegal black market in rhino horn.
What a finish to 2015
Last Saturday, more than 150 athletes enjoyed a beautiful Sydney morning competing in the annual 3 Bay Challenge biathlon at Watson's Bay. Established by Vincent Stander three years ago, the 3 Bay Challenge sees competitors run and swim along the beautiful Sydney Harbour shoreline. The winners were Andy Reid and Greta Truscott.
Special thanks to Investec, the Young Rhinos and all the volunteers for an excellent event.
Stay tuned for an exciting calendar of events in 2016.
Classic Safari Rhino Tour - SOLD OUT
2016 is shaping to be a big year for The Australian Rhino Project
We have now been working on this project for almost three years and we thank you, our supporters, for staying the distance.
Once the Australian and South African Governments have agreed on the biosecurity and quarantine issues, the first batch of rhinos will be moved into quarantine in South Africa before heading across the Indian Ocean. For this next step we have assembled a world class team of experienced specialists to ensure the safe arrival of the rhinos in Australia. Once these rhinos are in Australia, we will move to Phase Two of the project to arrange for the next group of rhinos to be prepared for translocation with our goal still being to move twenty rhinos in 2016. For this we obviously need your help.
Are you really prepared to allow this iconic dinosaur-like animal to become extinct on your watch?
One of the unexpected benefits of establishing The Australian Rhino Project has been the interaction with a wide body of opinions about conservation, poaching, the possibility of extinction, wildlife trafficking and the like. With very few exceptions, the comments and suggestions are positive, supportive, caring and passionate.
Occasionally there is obvious frustration and often despair at what humankind is doing to our planet. I am indebted to Malcolm for this very thoughtful piece received during the week.
“Some years ago a man by the name of Elie Wiesel, a holocaust survivor and Noble Peace prize winner, presented a speech to President Clinton and guests at the White House entitled ‘The Peril of Indifference’. The speech has been acknowledged by many as one of the great speeches of the last century. Wiesel argued that America under President Roosevelt knew about the horror going on in the concentration camps but did nothing. They were indifferent. So this begs the question "who was to blame?" I know that in 2015, many organisations and individuals are involved in initiatives to save the rhino, for example, just recently Howard Buffet donated USD25M to the Kruger National Park anti-poaching unit. Wonderful. The question of course is whose responsibility is it to save the animals – the rhinos, the elephants, the lions? Is it purely an African responsibility or is it that of a wider audience? If rhinos become extinct in the next couple of decades who will be blamed? The poachers? The government? The wider audience? All of the above? It seems to me that this is why The Australian Rhino Project was established and that you and your colleagues and supporters are not "indifferent" to the problem. You recognise that the solution does indeed belong to a wider audience. The power of the collective consciousness cannot be undervalued or underestimated.”
We at The Australian Rhino Project stress that not for one minute do we suggest that moving rhinos to Australia is the only answer. It certainly is not - however we feel strongly that it is one of many strategies that will ensure the survival of the species. And the situation is truly urgent. One rhino now killed every eight hours.
On behalf of the Board of The Australian Rhino Project I would like to thank you for your support over the past year. We have come a long way and this is because of the unflinching support of our partners, our supporters, our donors and our volunteers. 2016 is indeed shaping up to be a momentous year for The Australian Rhino Project.
Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.
‘Be sure to put your feet in the right place, then stand firm’