All for One
Rhino Revolution was born from the heartbreaking and escalating surge of rhino poaching in 2011 in the Hoedspruit area and surrounds, which borders the Kruger National Park (KNP) on its western side.
With the South African Defense Force (SANDF) reinforcing anti-poaching in Kruger, poachers are now targeting private landowners and private and provincial nature reserves like Timbavati, Klaserie, Selati and Manyeleti.
Until 2010 only five rhino had been lost in the greater Hoedpsruit area to poachers. The count just before Christmas 2011 stood at 33 rhino for the year to date.
Rhino Revolution is not about catching poachers. It's about a community taking a stand for what they believe in, because they know what affects them, and because they care.
This, according to Vincent Barkas, one of the drivers of the initiative, is at the heart of Rhino Revolution. It is also what will make it succeed.
People need to be aware about the rhino poaching in their community and what they can do about it. "How we can help each other."
The first defense is the community itself. "Do you know how much information a community holds about itself?" says Vincent, who is also owner of a 20 year-old security company, Protrack.
"Your best defense is a good neighbour. You may not agree with his or her political, religious or other beliefs, but the day you need help, your neighbour is most likely the first person to help you."
This is what happened recently when the South African Police arrested several alleged poachers traveling from Hoedspruit to Phalaborwa with rhino horn in their possession. The Police acted on the swift relay of accurate and pertinent information within the Hoedspruit community, involving diverse stakeholders and covering a wide area with a quick arrest made near Phalaborwa.
In an attempt to add impetus to the communication drive, Rhino Revolution invites speakers to talk about topics ranging from treating rhino horn with a chemical that could affect end-users in the east to how to care for orphan rhino.
While ongoing awareness creation and sharing of information are crucial, coalface action is also needed to protect the rhino.
Several options were discussed and dehorning was eventually accepted as a short-term solution. About 100 animals have been dehorned since the initiative began in August this year.
"It is not ideal, but at least, with dehorning, you have about 15 months to get your house in order and get a protection plan in place."
"We cannot stop poaching in Hoedspruit. We have to be realistic. It's just too big, going all the way to China and other countries in the east. But, we can focus on level one – the guys on the ground coming in shooting. We can combat that. We can get people on the ground between the poacher and the animal."
Rhino Revolution is also working closely with the National Wildlife Crime Reaction Unit (NWCRU), which was established in 2010 by the minister of environmental affairs to streamline anti-poaching efforts on a national and provincial level. The NWCRU is run by Ken Maggs, who is also head of SANParks' criminal investigative unit. Ken is based in Skukuza.
At grass-roots level, Rhino Revolution has thrown its weight behind education initiatives such as those of Sboniso Phakathi, better known as Spoon.
Spoon has taken five schools under his conservation wings and whilst he focuses on rhino, he uses the species to create awareness of other endangered species and conservation in general. Seeing a dehorning first-hand leaves a far better brain-print than a week's environmental lessons in a stuffy classroom.
In similar fashion, Mario Cesare at Olifants River Game Reserve started Bundu Club, while Colin Rowles at Klaserie Private Nature Reserve and Zani Kunz at Children's Eco Training focus on conservation outreach programmes that include bush trips and environmentally themed workshops. These last two initiatives, and others, are not directly linked to Rhino Revolution, but are also wising up the greater Hoedspruit's youth to feel the vibe where nature sets the ringtone.