By Andrew Field
Rhinoceros poaching in Africa has resulted in the slow and brutally endemic slaughter of one of the few mammal relics of a bygone age, gruesomely performed over the last decades. This carnage has been committed to satisfy an insatiable demand for the horn of this near extinct beast. A boneless piece of fibrous material, keratin, protruding from the frontal nasal bone, remains in demand for both ornamental and medicinal use. It is a lump of protein, in simple terms, and has been the undoing of the rhino in Africa.
It may seem that Africa’s corrupt regimes are simply going to allow this extinction of the rhino, and it appears too that the World will just look on. It is evident that those select few, who now rule Africa, are plundering Africa’s wildlife heritage with a greater passion, especially where rich rewards are realised. What is even more damning is that organisations, which supposedly boast high ethical standards in the name of conservation, are simply turning their heads the other way. Arab dagger merchants and Chinese traditional medicine men are laughing with rhino blood on their hands.
The rhino’s annihilation might well be compared with the post colonial destruction of Africa. As nation by nation relinquished their colonial bondages, after the long pursuit of freedom’s Holy Grail, the looting by the nouveau elite began, with a vengeance, and with impunity too. Thus, like these emerging nations, the Rhino became the victim of man’s insatiable greed and his filthy corruption, becoming the object of great destruction and pillaging. And the World looked on afraid to comment, lest they might offend, or simply turned the other cheek.
The colonials are not without their blame here. The white man’s forays into Africa commenced with the wholesale carnage of African game beyond our wildest imagination, back then to reap trophy upon trophy and more significantly elephant ivory. ‘Great’ white hunters left a legacy of mass slaughter in the wild and this was not just restricted to Africa. So, we can blame it all on the colonials, once more, and every one will be content, except, that is, the poor old rhino. Much like Zimbabwe’s land parallel, two wrongs just do not make a right.
In Zimbabwe, according to conservationists, some 50 rhino have already been taken this year, against 120 slaughtered last year, and all this to reap between 3 and 4 kilograms of horn per beast. The carcass is wasted. Zimbabwe’s rhinoceros population is now down to about 350. That is just three years’ supply.
Recently, poaching activity involving Zimbabwean politicians, including a high level Cabinet Minister, was uncovered. The evidence was overwhelming, apparently, but the police docket against them mysteriously disappeared and now nothing will happen. Both police and army personnel have turned poacher too, lapping at the bowl of political patronage. Of course, it is not only the politicians involved, but they have certainly created the platform.
Patronage appears to be the real problem in Africa, and Zimbabwe seems to have mastered this in recent years. Zimbabwe’s fragile unity government has hardly murmured a word about this looting of its wildlife heritage. There is no condemnation and, most certainly, there will be no prosecutions of that hallowed political fraternity or its minions feeding from the same trough.
Clearly, those who fight the plight of the rhino are paddling up a raging, murky, rapid, with little hope of meeting their objectives, unless, of course, there is a return to true democracy, the breaking down of the patronage system, and the de-politicisation of the civil service and armed forces. Carbon emission controls might seem easier to achieve.
The country needs to revisit the concept of full transparency and see the restructuring of those government departments that concern themselves with our wildlife heritage and conservation. As it stands, this is going to take a very long time, perhaps years to achieve. For the rhinoceros, the problem is that time has actually run out. Zimbabwe’s rhino population might well become truly extinct before any of this happens.
Pictures by Andrew Field (top) and an anonymous photographer (bottom) supplied by Johnny Rodrigues (Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force)