Rhinos may look intimidating but are hapless victims of human greed, false and at times stupid beliefs. Although many are aware that these herbivores are poached for their horn, the short film “Rhino Wars” telecast by BBC highlights several aspects of this illegal trade unknown to the viewers.
The documentary, produced and directed by John Thynne is presented by Leana Hosea, a journalist. It focuses on South Africa’s Kruger Park an area which shares 360 kilometre border with Mozambique –– from where poachers come to hunt the rhinos. Last year 1200 rhinos were slaughtered and 42 poachers shot dead thus indicating the seriousness of the issue. Incidentally, Mozambique has no rhinos since they were eliminated by the European settlers and later affected by the chaos of the civil war.
What makes these unemployed and poor male between 25 and 35 years risk their lives? The $19 billion a year worth illegal wildlife trade is the fourth biggest international crime in the world with a rhino horn fetching $60,000 per kilogram and poacher earning between $5000 and 7000 per horn. In an e-mail interview, Leana agrees that demand is the root cause of the problem. She quotes Major General Jooste, Head of Kruger Park’s anti-poaching ranger, who told her: “This war will not be won inside the park. We start way off in the consumer countries.” The demand primarily comes from Asian countries, where it is believed to have medicinal properties besides being a status symbol and for trophy hunters from other parts of the world. India, home to one-horned rhinos too has been facing the problem of poaching leading to its dwindling population despite extensive conservation efforts.
The stakeholders in the protection exercise are however clear that killing does not work. Jooste told Leana: “No, it’s a short term solution. You’ve got to do it now because that way you save many rhino and you create risk. Poacher will always replace poacher unless you take out organised crime, the big bosses. Ultimately the solution does not lie in law enforcement alone, that’s only a small part of it. You start with demand reduction; work with international collaboration and make crime networks collapse.”
Vincent Barkas, Protack Anti-Poaching Unit, terms the killing of poachers, predominantly from poor black community, as counter-productive. “Every time we kill a poacher we do turn an entire community against conservation. You’re taking that Robin Hood scenario, you’re shooting somebody, who was stealing from the rich, giving to the poor and then they hate conservation because it’s seen as a rich white man’s thing.”
He raises the racial divide in conservation by stating black men do not own farm, or rhino or the land the wildlife sits on and do not benefit from conservation and feels that unless an awareness is created among them things will not change. Agreeing with him ranger, Tumi Morema, says, “Many years ago there weren’t fences and then white people came and they put up fences and now they own the animals and black people feel like they’ve been robbed. The access to the land has been taken away. So why must they care.”
The film highlights another step adopted by the forest officials to take care of rhino, mutilated badly due to sawing off its horn by poachers. The veterinarians manage to carry out pioneering facial reconstruction surgery by performing the first skin graft on a rhino, using skin from behind its ear besides using dental materials to plug the open wound.
The documentary is not limited to the official version turning its attention to foot soldiers involved in poaching. It brings to fore a father narrating the loss of his young son killed by the soldiers. The deceased, sole bread winner of his family has left behind two wives and two children. His brother who has been on four successful trips has killed five rhinos earning him 10000 dollars, a tiny fraction of the end price of the horn, comments: “No, it is not the right job but there aren’t any proper jobs here. What can you do? If you don’t do something you will die of hunger. There is no work here. All we can do is sit around here with our arms folded. If it were not for rhino poaching, we will all be dying of hunger here.”
As the film touches upon larger issues pertaining to poaching its relevance for the protection of endangered Indian animals, especially the rhinos, should be noted.