Here’s my response to this article on National Geographic:
“Good day. I am Ukrainian and have lived in South Africa for the past 14 years. As a witness to the rhino poaching crisis that has spiraled since the changes in local law were implemented, I cannot remain calm when reading articles that carry a twisted truth. John Hume is my husband and a rhino custodian who has bred more than 900 rhinos. He currently protects over 1300 rhinos using his own funds from his successful property business. He does not receive any income from these rhinos or any donations, yet he continues to save rhinos for future generations.
Bryan Christy’s article for National Geographic: ‘South Africa Just Lifted Its Ban on the Rhino Horn Trade’ is a typical example of how ignorance or deliberate manipulation of actual facts can mislead the general public who trust a serious and credible magazine like National Geographic. I feel that not responding to this behaviour is akin to keeping quiet when you see a robbery but choose not to report it.
From the first lines of the article, Mr Christy writes: “With just three terse sentences, the South African Supreme Court of Appeal has legalized rhino horn trade in South Africa again…The decision opens a door to criminal activity that some say is necessary to save a species – and others say will doom it.”
If I read Mr Christy’s opinion on opening a door to criminal activity as a reader who presumably isn’t aware of the depth of the poaching reality, I would feel an immediate rejection towards this ruling because I am against criminals. Yet, as a first-hand witness to the rhino’s reality and the poaching crisis, I can see clearly how a lack of explanation can fool a naive public and sway opinion into actually supporting criminal activity – a highly counter-productive response. I believe it is essential to be prudent with chronology and factual structure in delivering a story.
Mr Christy is either unaware or has chosen to ignore an important fact: domestic legal trade in rhino horn in South Africa had been in place for more than 40 years until it was suddenly banned in February 2009 without any explanation. It is important to note that up until this point, South Africa did not have a poaching crisis and was losing less than 20 rhinos per year to poachers.
Since the local ban on trade in rhino horn was implemented, South Africa has lost over 5000 rhinos to criminals in a mere 7 years! Again, before domestic legal trade was banned, no more than 200 rhinos were poached in 40 years!
These historical facts prove that criminal activity in rhino horn trade has shadowed our country because legal trade in horn was banned. A huge difference but for the general public, unaware of these facts, it’s so easy to believe the written words of some journalist who, in my opinion, opted to twist the reality.
Here’s my question to Mr Christy: Did banning the legal trade in rhino horn stopthe illegal trade? And if the ban on trade in rhino horn is so good for rhinos, then why are rhinos in South Africa being poached at a rate of 3 per day?
Also, when Mr Christy writes that in South Africa rangers raise rhino like dairy cows, I cannot help but shake my head. Firstly, he doesn’t explain what exactly he means by comparing breeding rhinos to dairy cows. There are various ways of raising dairy cows; rhinos would never survive in some conditions where dairy cows survive and thrive. Second, this shaky comparison could also apply to all wild animals raised in zoos and sanctuaries on any national or private land.
Rhinos in South Africa on private land live and breed in near-natural environments where their safety, health and well-being are the primary concerns of their custodians.They are certainly not as easy to breed as domestic animals because if they were, they would be not as rare as they are and the world would have many more rhino breeders than dairy cow breeders.
Mr Christy also emphasizes the point that “the opening of South Africa’s domestic rhino horn market brings with it an unpleasant reality: Horn will now most certainly be smuggled out of South Africa to Asia.”
Yet he seems to ignore the fact that South Africa is home to 92% of the world’s rhino population and that legal trade would provide a sustainable supply of horn without killing rhinos. The fact that the ban has claimed over 5000 rhino’s lives surely cannot be ignored when reality stares us in the face. It’s time to save the rhino, not the horn. After all, horn grows back and one rhino can produce up to 2 kg of horn per year.
I am very much in agreement with Izak du Toit’s explanation of the CITES ban which is a flawed and outdated law that could closely be compared to an apartheid law. Sometimes people have to transgress the very law they object to in order to show it is ineffective.
Finally, how many more rhinos have to die before journalists like Mr Christy will realise that banning local trade and not legalising an international trade in horn has been absolutely, catastrophically and devastatingly disastrous for rhinos?
If you still can’t or won’t get your head around that, ask yourself this: With rhinos around the world having already run out of time at an alarming rate, surely it’s worth a desperate, final shot to save the ones left here? How sad it would be to have to admit that we failed the rhino because we refused to do anything differently.”