With such unsustainable rhino losses going on, I was outraged to see CNN’s coverage of Corey Knowlton “legally” hunting a black rhino (Matendere) in Namibia for US$350 000. So outraged it’s taken me a while to formulate this statement. It was even more disturbing to know that conservation organisations like WWF and SRI (Save the Rhino International) allegedly support this kind of trophy hunting, and that it is legal according to CITES and US Fish and Wildlife. Despite the spin-doctoring of Corey Knowlton and the fence sitting of CNN and other major rhino players, everything about Corey and his pro-hunting propaganda can be picked apart.
- Statements were made by certain organisations that the rhino to be hunted should be an older male, past his reproductive years, and a danger to other younger, healthier rhinos in the area. It was rationalised by so-called scientific organisations that such an animal would be surplus to requirements for the biological viability of the local population, and could be wasting browse that younger, healthier rhinos could be eating. Then the CNN film indicated there were actually only three rhinos inhabiting the area, two of which were acceptable to the Namibian government to shoot (presumably because they were male). These same organisations have indicated in the past a “biologically viable population” consists of 20 or more animals! 3 is hardly an “overpopulation” by any stretch of the imagination! Did any of the “scientists” stop to consider that the older male may be older because he has a healthier immune system, and has vanquished his younger competition because it is survival of the fittest (and clearly he was still very fit), and therefore his genes would have been worth passing on, rather than artificially selecting for younger, possibly not so vigorous animals? What if the younger male turns out to be infertile? Or succumbs to a disease he has not yet developed immunity to? In my experience, black rhino custodians seldom have an in depth knowledge of the social interactions of these secretive animals on their property, let alone are able to judge the fertility of individual males.
- Corey Knowlton described the conditions of the four day hunt as “brutal”. What a DISGRACEFUL INSULT to the thousands of African rangers who spend their lives in a tent in the bush trying to protect the world’s rhinos. No doubt the hunting party went back to a five star lodge every night, gorged themselves on five star fare, and retired to their 600 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets. What world are they living in!? Brutal is sleeping out in the freezing cold bush night after night, if you’re lucky you have a sleeping bag, if you’re lucky your bland one meal for the day fills you up, and at any point a poacher could ambush your camp. Brutal is seeing your fellow rangers shot in the line of duty, and for some, even worse, is seeing their precious charges – the rhinos – massacred because there simply aren’t enough rangers to cover the vast habitats these rhinos live in. And doing it all for a salary of $300 a month on which to feed their families. Get a reality check, Corey. That’s what BRUTAL means.
- Corey’s statement that nothing else has brought so much awareness to the plight of the rhinos, and that he’s done more than his critics have for conservation. Have you heard of Dr William Foulds? Dr Johan Marais? Or any number of other grass roots organisations who are desperately fighting to save their wildlife with scarce resources in an extremely challenging political environment? And worse, his host Professional Hunter Mr Van Heerden’s statement that ‘there will always be activists, that is how they make their money. But they don’t have much clout here in Namibia’. I don’t see too many activists kitted out in the latest Landcruisers that most hunters drive Mr Van Heerden! (Which is exactly why they don’t have the same clout that you do!)
- As for the propaganda CNN propagated about the rhino’s meat being distributed to happy Namibian villagers. Yes, they probably really needed the protein, they would have been delighted with any meat, but with $350 000 Corey could have bought them a herd of 2000 cows which would sustain them for decades, not just one meal!
- The statement, however, that shows the most ignorance on the part of rich Western donor organisations and their followers is a statement claiming that this hunt “isn’t really the issue. The 1000 plus rhinos being lost every year to poaching in South Africa is the real issue.” Nothing could be further from the truth! Rich white American kills rhino and gets congratulated; poor black African kills rhino to feed his family and gets 20 years jail. How can these supposedly politically correct people NOT SEE the double standard? Most wildlife in Africa is perceived by many rural black Africans at best as crop-raiding pests, at worst as the pleasure of the “rich white elite’’. With the human population in Africa doubling in just 27 years, it cannot be disputed that local black Africans are the future of conservation in Africa. So long as they continue to see wildlife as something that primarily benefits rich white hunters and landowners, they will never be motivated to protect it, and conservation will never succeed. With that in mind, CNN was less than stellar in their investigative reporting on this hunt. For example, how much money was Mr Van Heerden and his company remunerated for their services? We, the African public have a right to know. Exactly where is the $350 000 – a drop in the ocean of rhino conservation – going to go? Are we going to get a paper trail to make sure “it’s done right”, Corey?
Many of these naïve organisations claim that hunting is OK so long as “inviolate rules” are followed in which all revenue goes back into conservation. Wake up! “Inviolate rules” is an oxymoron in Africa.
I am against the sport hunting of rhinos (and elephants). At current rates of poaching these iconic species will be extinct in less than 3 decades. I do not believe these animals are the property of one individual or one government. These animals are the heritage of the entire world, and no one person or organisation has the right to destroy them, not for any price
(Original text published in “Aware Trust”)