There’s no way I can sit here and write something that does justice to the efforts people are making to protect and conserve our rhinos, that really gets to the heart of the emotion and sense of communal purpose that drives them… but I’ll try! And, there’s no more fitting day to do that than International Rhino Day. Trying to describe the energy I felt this past weekend is like trying to describe that sweet smell of the bush after rain – it’s just something you have to experience yourself to really understand.
So, from Thursday to Sunday last week, I was fortunate to join a small team of rhino-philes headed up by Chris Thorpe and Joanne Lapin from Rhino Force. With us was a team from Bushnell, the masterminds behind the Binos 4 Rhinos initiative. Our destination was Phinda Private Game Reserve. Adjoining Mkhuze Game Reserve to its north and close to that well-known rhino sanctuary of Hluhluwe/Imfolozi, Phinda lies in the very heart of Zululand’s rhino country. The reserve’s approach to rhino conservation on its land is very hands-on, both in terms of security and management, and Saturday sees us assemble under the leadership of Simon Naylor, Phinda’s Reserve Manager. The task is straightforward: to ear-notch a rhino for easy field identification, take genetic material for the South Africa’s growing DNA bank and microchip the horns for easy identification.
The capture team located our female white rhino after only a few minutes… complete with calf! I was expecting some sort of media-related disaster (the type where you try to get a dog to perform in front of the camera and everything goes horribly wrong), but I was met with an incredibly slick capture. Within minutes both the mother and her calf were immobilised and the ground crew had moved in. And that is where I felt the passion kick in too. Seldom have I seen a more dedicated team of individuals swarm around those animals as they set to work to do their small bit for rhino conservation. The energy, the emotion was quite overpowering. Yet at the same time there was the discipline of a team that had done this many times before. And for those who had not been close to a rhino before, let alone touched one, I could feel their sense of awe. That and their anger that such a large and innocent giant could be butchered for its horn. I can only say that even the most sophisticated of poaching gangs will struggle to beat the spirit I experienced at this, my ground zero.
Rhino Force – together with legendary and inspirational conservationist Clive Walker – will be unveiling a giant red beaded rhino at Rosebank Mall in Johannesburg on Sun 2 Oct. Stay tuned for further details.