Rhino Revolution: Searching for new solutions

The rhino does not belong to us. It belongs to no one. All that we own is the responsibility of ensuring that it persists and that future books on the rhino are written about its expanded range and not its declining future.

– Yolan Friedmann (Endangered Wildlife Trust)


Please join the EWT and Jacana Media for a fascinating evening as we launch an incredible new book, written by EWT founder, Clive Walker, and his son Anton. This not-to-be-missed event will see Clive in conversation with Yolan Friedmann, EWT CEO, about this wonderful book, and his adventures in conservation.

While the belief continues to persist that the enemy lies elsewhere, in Southeast Asia, how is South Africa going to sustain the cost of securing rhino? The Walkers believe that the problem actually lies in South Africa’s own backyard. This book discusses corruption and the criminal justice system, the need for more community engagement and the costs of protection. It also looks at how far we have come since the rhino wars in the 1980s and the rhino trade debate.

We have to shift from the negative to an element of the positive. People are tired of seeing dead and dying rhino. There is some optimism due to the excellent work being undertaken by the state and the private sector at many levels in security, tourism, community involvement and environmental education, as well as NGO support.

Rhino Revolution testifies to the many people doing just that. The rhino war in South Africa has entered its 10th year, and last year saw 662 rhino killed in Kruger alone – and over 1,000 in total for South Africa. Clive and Anton Walker, authors of the bestselling Rhino Keepers (2012), have once again come up with a fresh, new look at the ongoing rhino crisis. With magnificent photographs and afterwords by John Hanks and Yolan Friedmann.

Copies of the book will be on sale on the evening, and Clive will be available to sign books after the talk.


Clive Walker entered the battle for the rhino with the founding of the Endangered Wildlife Trust in 1973. He co-founded the Rhino and Elephant Foundation and the African Rhino Owners Association, and served on the IUCN African Rhino Specialist Group for close on 14 years. He served as a member of the South African Parks Board from 2000 to 2006.

Anton Walker, Clive’s son, grew up largely at Lapalala Wilderness, the reserve that was to become an important rhino sanctuary and a world-class environmental school in the bush. Anton joined the permanent staff of the reserve in 1996 and was the general manager of the 45 000-hectare sanctuary until October 2017. He has since taken up the position of director and curator of the Waterberg Living Museum in the Waterberg of Limpopo. His knowledge of both species of rhino is extensive in all areas of management, capture, monitoring, field operations and aerial surveys. His special interest lies in the fossil record of the rhino.


Yolan Friedmann

The upsurge of rhino poaching across all range states since 2007 has become something of a modern conservation crisis on a number of levels. Naturally, for the rhino and for the long-term survival of this icon of the African wilderness, the loss of over 25% of the combined population of black and white rhino in just a decade signals a serious crisis and places a question mark on their ability to survive. But in many ways, the crisis runs deeper than that. Just as conservationists sprang into action when the trends in rhino poaching appeared to be changing at alarming rates, so began a rapid shift and, in many cases, a rapidly expanding divide in the landscape of conservation action, ideologies, interventions, perspectives, opinions, special interests and priority setting. Over the past decade, the rhino crisis has catapulted governments, civil society, wildlife owners, NGOs, biologists and politicians into a series of confrontations with one another and, I would suggest, with ourselves, with less than favourable or constructive outcomes.

The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) has been actively working for the conservation of endangered species since its establishment by Clive Walker, Neville Anderson and James Clarke in 1973. For over 44 years, we have been at the forefront of addressing the threats to the conservation of the African wildlife that is heritage and home to us all. The role of the EWT as mediator, initiator and convenor has taught the Trust to understand and navigate its way around ‘human nature’ in order to arrive at a positive outcome. In recent times, the fate of the rhino, and a host of other species that are being equally decimated by rampant illegal trade and escalating greed, has suggested that ‘human nature’ will be the final test of all humanity – and not just the obstacle around which some of us must work.

Clive and Anton Walker have described in great detail and with extensive evidence the numerous tenets to the complexity of today’s ‘rhino crisis’. It is clear that the crisis faced by the rhino today cannot be solved with the solutions of yesterday. The 21st century presents criminal networks with high-tech weaponry that kills in larger numbers, sophisticated forms of communication, efficient transport systems to move product quickly, and more effective ways of corrupting people into networks. It has presented consumers with changing uses for wildlife products and new markets to promote the access to, and use of, wildlife as symbols of increasing wealth. With millions of disenfranchised communities living around, and often within, the parks that are supposed to protect our wildlife, poaching kingpins have no shortage of desperate human beings willing to do their killing and thus kick-start a chain of wildlife trafficking that spans continents and societies. It is into this murky underworld of not only the criminal actions, but also of the underlying human nature that drives them, that the rhino and their wildlife counterparts, such as lions, tigers, bears, elephants and pangolins, have found that their future has now plunged.

Confronting this murky underbelly of humanity forms just one aspect of the modern conservation crisis. On the opposite end of the scale, where the ‘good guys’ are found working on solutions, exists another crisis for humanity. One that is characterised by divisive ideologies, aggressive infighting, ego wars and conflicting agendas. The trouble with the issues faced by those working on this end of the scale is that there exists little to no common objective and no unified force. Instead, our conflicting ideologies, objectives and ambitions serve to divide us and divert attention away from the real enemy, which is in itself a lot more unified and cohesive in its intentions.

No clearer example of this exists in the debate around whether or not the legal trade in rhino horn is the panacea to the rhino poaching crisis. Pitting the individuals and entities that do not believe that a legal trade in rhino horn is currently the solution to this highly complex situation, against those who do or those who stand to benefit from the trade in rhino horn, against each other under the premise that the former group is ‘anti-sustainable use’ or an ‘ill-informed animal rights group’ has become one of the greatest stumbling blocks, I believe, to finding solutions to ensure that free living rhino survive. The argument has devolved to low levels with those who express a concern for legalising the trade within the context of rampant corruption, highly organised trading networks and insufficient protection for free living rhino, being accused of working alongside poachers to drive the rhino to extinction and pocketing ‘millions’ of dollars in funding to drive fancy cars. Despite this rhetoric, no evidence has yet been presented of any NGO that has allegedly benefitted from or been incentivised to drive rhino to extinction, and I have yet to hear of anyone from the NGO sector who has been alleged to be involved in any rhino poaching or illegal trade activities.

To the contrary, many NGOs have stepped in to fill the void created by radically slashed budgets in our provincial and national reserves, and have provided basic items such as: gloves and razor blades for tissue sampling; diesel and fuel to support more regular patrols; food, uniforms and radios to assist rangers in their day-to-day field work; high-tech support in the form of training and deploying sniffer and tracking dogs; and the provision of microchips, satellite phones, drones and handheld devices for improved data collection. The EWT alone has trained nearly 2 000 members of the police, SARS and the various provincial conservation and law enforcement agencies on various aspects of wildlife crime, environmental law and trafficking methodologies. Enormous amounts of funding have been spent on supporting the communities, who live on the borders of our parks, to become more resilient to the appeal of poaching as an income generator by the provision of alternative livelihoods, education and training, job creation and skills development.

In the years following South Africa’s transition to a democratic government, shifting government priorities saw provincial conservation budgets being slashed, posts in conservation departments being left vacant or frozen and poor to no attention being paid to adequately training and resourcing those at the frontline of conservation. Political interference and union intervention in the running of some of the provincial agencies resulted in key skills being lost and insufficient knowledge remaining in those in leadership positions of how to deal with the impending crisis of wildlife poaching and trafficking. As a result, many provincial reserves were slowly eroded with fences being cut, roads not maintained, irregular patrols being carried out, poor to little implementation of management plans, and a focus on the ‘bums in beds’ component of the reserve instead of its contribution to biodiversity and endangered species conservation.

Essentially, South Africa was caught with its pants down when the rhino poaching crisis hit our shores: we had poorly managed, poorly resourced and poorly governed conservation departments and reserves; and, as a result, we failed to act swiftly, appropriately and with vigour. It is against this backdrop that the NGO movement, the private sector and civil society in general, had to step up and play a significant role in ramping up our defence against the onslaught of wildlife crime. Private wildlife owners, NGOs, corporate South Africa and civilians have all stepped up and become critical players in the race to save the rhino. For the most part, this has been done with enormous amounts of goodwill, collaboration and a desire to ensure that South African wildlife persists in a free and wild state. We are all partners in this struggle and we are all important. The divisive nature of the discourse in some sectors can therefore only suggest that not everyone envisages the same outcome for our wildlife and that the development of a collective vision is perhaps the first priority.

Further evidence of an urgent need for a new collective vision for wildlife in South Africa is the push by a small private-sector community, and some in government, towards the intensive farming and mass production of wildlife for body parts and with no demonstrable conservation benefit whatsoever. This, they counter, is simply an extension of the concept of ‘sustainable use’ which is being redefined as ‘use that never ends’, as opposed to a more valid interpretation of this term, which is to use natural resources in such a way that they contribute to the sustained ecological functioning of the ecosystem in which they are found. With no strict conditions set for the utilisation of wildlife resources, which would for example ensure that they are utilised only in such a way that they contribute to the ecological integrity and functioning of viable ecosystems, it is all too simple to equate them to cattle or sheep, feedlot them for mass production and sell off their body parts under the premise that this is sustainable use. I would argue that this is not what was envisioned in the Convention on Biological Diversity and in the South African Constitution.

The argument for mass producing wildlife resources in intensive breeding operations has been justified by some as a means to supply Asian markets, control prices and regulate trade flows, protect wild sources, displace demand and in some cases, even ‘flood’ markets to drive down demand. As none of these theories have been proven to stem the illicit flows of contraband, they are not sound enough reasons to enter into an age of ‘wildlife production’ with its own set of highly unfavourable consequences. For one, it is well documented that a trade in captive-bred wildlife parts does not displace the market for wild bred and caught counterparts – it often just creates a new market. For another, the flows of legally acquired wildlife products present severe challenges for already besieged law-enforcement authorities and a confused public, as product availability is all too often assumed to imply product legality, and checks and balances are not robust enough to prevent this confusion for the man on the street. Furthermore, in a highly corrupt society, and a world where organised-crime forces are not likely to simply drop a product due to the fact that there may now be a legal supply available, one cannot assume that traders, suppliers and consumers of the ‘real, wild thing’ will now simply stop their use.

An additional threat is the significant risk and damage to South Africa’s reputation as a place of wild beauty, the ‘wild’ African experience and a tourism sector that has been built on stories of ground-breaking national park establishment, global conservation success and a sense of place. The advent of canned lion hunting has been a stain on South Africa’s aspirations to present itself as a destination that offers a ‘true’ wildlife experience to a wider diversity of tourists or big-game hunters, than the small handful that seek to kill a captive lion for the joy of seeing it die.

All that the mass production of farmed wildlife products has demonstrated is that a parallel industry is created for those who desire to consume, shoot or trade in wildlife products. This cannot be what the drafters of the term ‘sustainable utilisation’ meant when they recognised that humanity’s ability to derive a benefit from a resource would ensure its ecological survival. This is why, in recent times, the EWT has embarked on an effort to promote the use of the term ‘sustainable conservation’ in order to remind us that utilisation must support the continued conservation of that resource and not simply its continued use. It is our hope that if we return to the ideology that utilisation of our natural resources should benefit the greater good and the conservation of those ecosystems and habitats that support us all, we may again become unified in our outlook on humanity and our own pathway towards survival.

But herein lies the challenge. How do we achieve a unified conservation voice out of a set of ideologies and commercial objectives that differ so vastly and are in fact often at odds with one another? How do we begin to engage in dialogue that is constructive in its outcome and less divisive in its impact? These may be philosophical questions that fall outside the scope of conservationists and biologists, but for them the solutions are critical. We cannot afford to argue, attack, insult, manoeuvre, plot and scheme under the guise of having a common conservation objective, which is arguably not the case at worst and confusing at best, when the enemy is quite clear on its distinct objective, and is far more organised and efficient in its way of achieving it.

We are living in a world in which rampant crime, greed, the rights of the individual to wealth, health, consumption, ownership and power by far outweigh the rights of others, present or future, to equity, sustainability and, in some cases, to life. The proliferation of wildlife crime in recent decades extends to far more than rhino and elephant – it includes species such as cycads for the collector, reptiles for the pet trade, and a variety of species of animal and plants for medical and consumptive use that is far too extensive to list here. This is not new. What has however changed in recent years and is driving this pattern to crisis levels and tipping points for many species is the following: the integration of these commodities into transnational crime networks as highly tradeable products; the increase in consumer buying power; escalating corruption locally and globally; greater consumer access through social media and the ‘dark web’; declining and inadequate support for conservation agencies; and the premise that the conservation of wild things in wild places is no longer a government priority. Underpinning this all is the mass commodification of wildlife for short-term gain and hence, I would suggest, this can never be the solution.

The rhino has been an icon of African wildlife for centuries and, in recent decades, it has become the icon of African conservation. I would now like to suggest that we escalate the rhino to the status of an icon for the future of humanity, as we face the truth about ourselves as a species that is able and willing to surrogate millennia of evolutionary biology and the aspirations of every wild and free species for the gains of artificial wealth, dubious health benefits, market control, power and ego. The fate of the rhino will become the fate of every other species that man determines has a value for consumers, traders, owners, buyers, thrill chasers and trophy seekers.

The rhino does not belong to us. It belongs to no one. All that we own is the responsibility of ensuring that it persists and that future books on the rhino are written about its expanded range and not its declining future.

Tuesday 10 April 2018

Presented by Clive Walker, in conversation with Yolan Friedmann

RSVP: 6 April 2018

Please note: Dinner reservations need to be booked and paid for in advance by the RSVP deadline.

18:00 for 18:30 (please note the slightly earlier start than usual, to allow for book signings)
Dinner to be served at 20:30
Dress Code – Smart Casual {no shorts, t-shirts or slops}
Country Club Johannesburg, Auckland Park
1 Napier Road, Auckland Park

CCJ Members RSVP to Cathy Robertson on 011 710 6421 or cathyr@ccj.co.za
Charges will be made to your Club Account
CCJ Members – Talk only R80 pp ~or~ Talk + Dinner R265 pp

RSVP to joelt@ewt.org.za or 011 372 3600 – Extension: 112
EWT Members:  Talk Only R80 pp ~or~ Talk + Dinner R265 pp
Non-Members:  Talk Only R105 pp ~or~ Talk + Dinner R290 pp
DINNER – R185 pp

In order to confirm your booking, please email proof of payment to joelt@ewt.org.za or
fax 011 608 4682

Payments may be made to the following account:
Endangered Wildlife Trust
First National Bank, Rosebank
Acc. No. 50371564219
Branch Code. 25 33 05
REF: Name + EWT Talk

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