Rhino Encounters: Allan Davies
How did your interest in rhinos begin?
It was piqued back in the 1960s when I went to my local drive-in to see the movie, Hatari. It was about a group of professional wildlife catchers who round up and capture wild animals on behalf of zoos around the world. That, combined with my dad’s stories and the hundreds of photos from a trip he’d done to Africa a decade prior, had me well and truly hooked. So twenty years later when I was offered a job by a gold and platinum mining company based near Johannesburg, I jumped at the opportunity to finally get to Africa. During my three years there (and subsequent business trips after that) my family and I regularly went the Kruger National Park as well as other game parks in South Africa and Botswana and quickly developed a fascination with Africa’s ‘big five’. Seeing them in their natural habitat rather than a zoo was especially thrilling. However it really saddens me to think that in this setting where these wonderful creatures (particularly rhinos), should be safe, they no longer are. Instead they’re at the mercy of unscrupulous poachers, mercilessly chasing them down for their horn.
How did you first get involved with the Australian Rhino Project?
Several years ago I was approached by my friend ‘Rhino Ray’ (Dearlove) who I’d got to know when our sons were at The Kings School in Sydney and later during several Rugby World Cup tours overseas. Ray was alarmed by the escalation in rhino poaching and was desperate to do something about it. He was toying with idea of starting a breeding program here in Australia.
He knew that I had strong association with South Africa and might be willing to help which was an accurate guess. I quickly put him in touch with a close connection at the University of Sydney’s Veterinary School which had close ties with Taronga Zoo and that pretty much got the ball rolling.
From those early beginnings in 2013 Ray and the team have gone on to build a very substantial organisation which is now well advanced with the necessary approvals to bring the first batch of rhinos to Australia.
What is your key role in the organisation?
Very early in the piece it was pretty obvious that Ray could not manage the Australia Rhino Project single-handed. Not only did he need support but he also needed to establish a board of directors that would take care of corporate governance and oversee the organisation’s strategy and finances. Given my executive director roles and my experience in very senior management, I was appointed chairman and helped recruit other board members. I also helped put some of the building blocks in place critical to establishing a legitimate, workable operation.
Given that fund-raising is critical to getting rhinos to Australia in the first instance, one of our first duties was to secure deductible gift recipient (DGR) status for the organisation which means all contributions are tax-deductible.
The next big hurdle facing the Board is securing approval to put rhinos into quarantine ahead of coming out to Australia. All going well, we will hopefully have the first six in Australia in 2017. While this has all taken a lot longer than we had initially hoped, what has become clear to us is that meeting Australia’s stringent bio-security regulations is paramount to the success of the project. I breed cattle and sheep so understand the importance of keeping Australia disease-free.
If you had a magic wand what would you do to address the current rhino crisis?
While reducing the demand for rhino horn is paramount, it is however only part of the solution. The rest is providing the impoverished communities that surround the game parks with a new income stream should rhino poaching be stamped out. We don’t want the problem to manifest itself again in some other way because these people no longer have a lucrative livelihood.
While we would dearly love to be involved in helping these communities, sadly this is not within our scope of work. Our job is to get 80 rhinos to Australia over the next four years and to establish a viable breeding herd of black and white rhinos as an insurance population to prevent the extinction of one the oldest mammals on the planet.
Basically we’re focussing on one piece of the puzzle and trying to do it really well.