Conservation’s Poster Child

Conservation’s Poster Child

The poster child for conservation used to be the elephant, and the war was for ivory. For me, the culmination of this era was the image of Richard Leakey burning tens of tons of ivory in Kenya. The scene was surreal. The ivory war continues – it’s just no longer front and centre. 

Wild elephant herd on the Chobe River.

Next was the rhino. Everywhere you looked, there were action groups, causes raising funds and scathing indictments. Books were written and people rallied – one can argue to little effect, but the end result is still unknown. One cannot be sure what the outcome would have been without the public’s activism and attention.

Recently, it was about the oil and gas giant Shell, who set its sights on our Wild Coast. The planned seismic survey would have caused serious and irreversible harm to the marine environment. Once the public knew about the decision, the reaction was swift. Protests and media coverage abounded. Eventually in late August 2022, the Makhanda High Court set aside a decision by Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe to grant Shell the exploration rights. For once, success. Similar to the hue and outcry that eventually stopped fracking in the Karoo. However, the key is vigilance. Often, after these victories, the public interest moves onto the next issue. And when we stop paying attention, deals are signed that forever change our environment…

The magnificent, yet fragile, Wild Coast –  featuring “Hole in the Wall”.

Recently, an article caught my eye. Published in the Daily Maverick and written by Don Pinnock, the headline “Kruger National Park’s rhinos are headed for extinction, we must declare an emergency” stopped me in my tracks. Whilst somewhat sensationalist, the phrase achieved its aim. In reality, the “emergency” has been going on for years and declaring it such is unlikely to make much difference, anymore than it has in the past. The key lies in action, ideally quiet, behind the scenes and lethally efficient. It truly is a war out there, and those on the frontline often pay with their lives.  

So, what is the reality of the rhino today? The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment reported that “in 2022, 124 rhinos were killed in the Kruger National Park. No rhinos were poached in any other ‘national’ park. The number of rhinos poached in the Kruger National Park represents a 40% decrease compared with those killed for their horn 2021. Unfortunately, the poaching threat has shifted to KwaZulu-Natal, which lost 244 rhino to poaching last year. Of these, 228 were killed in provincial parks and 16 in privately owned reserves. The Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park was specifically targeted. In total, across the country, private rhino owners lost 86 rhinos. The number of rhinos killed in the past year represents a slight decline (of 3) compared to the 451 rhinos poached in South Africa in 2021.” In 2016, 1054 rhinos were poached. So, the numbers poached are reducing – but so are the rhino…

Beautiful white rhino in one of our parks some years ago. Note the notches in the ears for ID purposes.

When one consistently hears a phrase bandied about, it loses its effect. In my humble opinion, “extinct” is one of those words. It no longer has the shock value that it should. The fact that we as the human race (as opposed to natural causes such as, for example, an ice age) have caused species to die out, should be cause for deep shame. Never before in earth’s long history has one species caused the extinction of thousands of other species. Let’s not even get into the deep suffering and physical pain inflicted in the process. In general, the human population shrugs as if to say “Oh well”, and then continues along their merry, destructive way. But here’s the thing – we are slowly destroying our planet (or not so slowly). That environment which sustains life, providing us with those resources we need to survive – and yet we don’t blink. It is so terribly sad…

A white rhino with her calf (September ‘22). Note that her horns are cut off in an attempt to save her from poachers.

I don’t know what the answers all are. 

I do have a sneaky suspicion that they are all interlinked. The crime syndicates, the international trafficking, the demand from the Asian countries. Whether you’re talking ivory, rhino horn or pangolins, the bigger picture is surprisingly similar. If you’re discussing saving the Karoo, or the Wild Coast, those putting them at risk are the same energy companies. It is an incredibly complex situation, with no simple solutions. 

What do I know for sure? That every action has a consequence. The “butterfly effect” is the idea that small things can have non-linear impacts on a complex system. Imagine a butterfly flapping its wings and causing a typhoon? Whilst this is obviously not possible, it does create a great illustrative concept. All of life is interlinked – and we are a part of that system. Sooooo…

Each of us can, however, do our part to save this beautiful world we live in. Whether it’s signing a petition, donating to a cause, driving in an environmentally friendly manner, recycling our rubbish or participating in a stream / beach clean-up. Make it count… This planet is the only home we have!

Jacqui Ikin & The Cross Country Team

Ian’s Midmar Mile Charity Challenge swim

The happy “Swimming for CANSA” Trio!! (Ian is on the left).

On a happier note, a huge “Thank You” to all who sponsored Ian’s Midmar Mile Charity Challenge swim, raising R16 100 for CANSA. Ian came second in his age group and is planning on repeating the swim again next year. Well done all!!

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