Very interesting and worth trying to get this off the ground. But what is not stated clearly enough is the very important point that this will only get off the ground and have a chance of success if the rhino horn harvested from the rhinos that are bred can be sold. That is the only possible source of the sort of income that would make this viable. At the moment, as Hume’s unsuccessful rhino horn auction last year showed, horn cannot be sold internationally because of CITES regulations and international support, however misinformed and misplaced that view might be, for a continuing international rhino horn trade ban. Horn cannot be sold, except in a few countries (including South Africa, where there is no market for it other than as an export commodity), and so currently it cannot bring in the income to make this work to provide payments for rural communities. This point is quickly skated over in a short para in the article below, but is a massive stumbling block. Unless CITES rules are changed or countries opt out (rhino range states and potential horn buyers both have to leave CITES for international trade to work) then this will simply not take off. Laudable idea but pie in the sky under current conditions. KS
Southern Africa rhino breeding programme roll-out takes off
The South Africa-based world biggest rhino breeder, Mr John Hume has partnered with a local NGO to implement a Southern Africa Community Rhino Breeding Programme aimed reducing the rhino poaching crisis in the region, working together with Southern African governments and private rhino breeders.
Currently, Southern African rural communities; settled next to national parks and game reserves suffer costs from wildlife human-wildlife conflict with no benefits from rhinos and are inclined to collaborate with poachers to get ‘benefits’ from the rhino.
Therefore, the decision to roll-out the Southern African Community Rhino Breeding Programme is aimed at increasing the rhino population and in the process, create opportunities for rural communities to benefit from rhinos and then stop collaborating with poachers.
This month, the Southern Africa Community Rhino Breeding Programme, the South Africa-based True Green Alliance held a meeting with Mr Hume in which they agreed on a commonly shared approach to introduce the Southern Africa Community Rhino Breeding Programme.
Most rural communities earn their living from cattle farming. The white rhino lives off similar veld as do cattle and can therefore be kept and bred under the same conditions as their cattle. The rural community members are good cattle producers and can therefore prove to be good rhino keepers as well. Therefore, they can breed rhinos by following the breeding programme set up by Mr Hume that uses many similar principles already used for this style of farming. It is hoped that the Southern African Community Rhino Breeding Programme that involves Mr Hume giving free rhino breeding training to Southern Africa rural communities could change the unwanted status quo; whereby the poor rural communities are currently more inclined to work with poachers to get ‘benefits’ from the rhinos as opposed to working with their governments and environmental NGOs to conserve the rhino. This community-poacher relationship is very harmful to the rhino as poachers give villagers small amounts of money that finish quickly and make the villagers wish that poachers return soon to poach again and give them money and in the process more and more rhinos get poached. This sad reality could potentially come to an end if the Southern Africa Community Rhino Breeding Programme gets successfully implemented.
However, the success of the Programme does not only depend on Mr Hume’s free rhino breeding training only. Under this Programme, the Southern African governments that are collectively losing thousands of rhinos to poachers annually, – a population that is guaranteed to be wiped out through poaching; – should seriously consider donating about 10 white rhinos per community. These rhino, instead of being poached, could then be saved if given to each rural community settled next national parks for breeding and rhino horn harvesting.
Also, key to the success of the rhino breeding Programme is the need for beneficiary rural communities to partner with experienced and reputable rhino breeders with rural communities. The private rhino breeders are important partners as they already know how to run the business, especially issues related to security, veterinary services, administration and sustainability.
Under this initiative rural communities would be required to give back the same number of rhinos (10) donated to them by their governments, after a six-year period. This is where the rhino conservation secret lies through involving rural communities neighbouring national parks. The 10 rhinos that were inevitably going to be poached among hundreds that each Southern African country is losing to poachers, are saved under the protection of rural communities. Through the benefits, they would be receiving from rhino horn harvesting with prospects of future benefits through trade – these rural communities now do not need to collaborate with poachers but to fight against them. With this change in rural community mindset and value for the rhino there would be a clear incentive to save the rhino from poachers. This new and welcome community rhino protective attitude and practice would then help increase the rhino populations throughout Southern Africa.
A Southern Africa-wide rhino population increase, arising from a successful rhino breeding programme and the reduction of poaching levels would in future, create a greater opportunity for rhino horn harvesting and trade.
“The rhino life-span is about 45 years,” said Mr Hume. “Throughout this 45-year period, rural communities can earn income from rhino horn harvesting. The rhino horn regrows two years after being harvested.”
The revenue from the rhino horn sales would then be used for rhino conservation and socioeconomic development in the poor communities that currently cannot even afford basic human needs such as clean drinking water, toilets, clinics, schools and roads.
“If a community is not going to benefit from the sale of the rhino horn, they would be the first ones to poach the rhino and sale the horn on black market,” said Mr Hume. “So, rhino conservation could never work until the communities can sell their rhino horn just like the communities in South America are now selling their vicuña that has a similar history to the CITES rhino horn international ban but it is now being traded. The vicuña population has since increased from 5 000 about 40 years ago, to a total population of 450 000 now because people see the incentive to conserve the vicuña that they are benefiting from through trade, through the sustainable shear its fur and not shooting it for its skin and fur as happened in the past. This is exactly what we are saying the rhino horn should be harvested and traded without killing the rhino for its horn.”
To kick start the Southern Africa Community Rhino Breeding Programme, this month the True Green Alliance will start holding meetings with Southern African governments to discuss their involvement in implementation of Community Rhino Breeding Programme.
The Southern African governments are very supportive of sustainable use of natural resources and community involvement in the conservation of natural resources. This is evident through many community based natural resources management programmes that are under way in Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.
So far, encouraging progress has been made with Mr Hume having already provided the piece of land (free of charge) to build a hostel in which Southern African rural communities representatives would stay while being trained on rhino breeding ranch. The True Green Alliance is currently negotiating for funding to build the training hostel from local and foreign companies as well as international donor agencies. The training hostel will accommodate 10 trainees at a time. A hostel manager in charge of preparing meals, bedding and transport for the trainees would be employed, together with kitchen staff. The True Green Alliance is currently sourcing funding to buy a 10-seater mini-bus for ferrying the trainees to and from different places while during training. Motor bikes to be bought for the trainees (two trainees to share one bike).
Mr Hume whose white rhino population has now from 1 500 to 1 639 for the past 10 months, has already developed a White Rhino Breeding Training Manual that would be used for the Southern African Community Rhino Breeding Programme.
“I just want to ensure that the rhino does not become extinct,” said Mr Hume when asked what he would want to be remember for.
It is at Mr Hume’s 8000-hectare rhino breeding ranch where one can see the endless possibilities of ending both the rhino poaching and rural poverty crises in Southern Africa, if only our governments could donate rhinos to our poor rural communities and then allow them to breed the white rhino, like they do cattle.
The employees who help Mr Hume to breed and protect the rhino are almost 100% black. This gives hope that Southern African rural communities would be able to breed white rhino.
However, rhino breeding can be costly. Therefore, the rural communities would still need to work with well-resourced private rhino breeders to ensure the project has enough resources to pay for security personnel, security systems, patrol vehicles, feed, infrastructure such as boreholes, rhino mud baths, feeding troughs, tractors etc. In turn the community provides the government-donated rhinos, the land and labour.
For example, Mr Hume has invested a lot in infrastructural developments on his 8 000-hectare rhino ranch. He employs hundreds of people whom he pays market related wages and salaries, including a general manager, security manager and vet. His total all-inclusive rhino breeding monthly costs are R5 million.
When it comes to security, Mr Hume makes sure that enough investment and security measures are in place with a helicopter flying over his ranch day and night, ensuring rhino protection from poachers.
Mr Hume’s ranch is now covered with high-tech military-style radar system that spots every inch of his 8 000- hectare rhino ranch and detects vehicles 12 kilometres away from his ranch boundaries.
“Our business is to protect the rhino,” said Mr Hume’s security manager. “I would like to warn poachers that if they are tire of living they can come here. If not they should rather stay at home. We are here to protect the rhino and we cannot give them away. We can spot vehicles and human movement 12 kilometres away through our radar system.”