Five years into the fight against rhino poaching in South Africa, and the organisers of Investec Rhino Lifeline say they are still far from done.To date they have pumped R12 million into the project.
Education and awareness have been identified as the strongest focus areas in the poaching crisis according to Tanya dos Santos, the head of Rhino Lifeline.
Established in 2012, Rhino Lifeline identified three core focus areas - education, rescue and demand reduction.
Investec has spent R8.1m on education, R3.5m on rescues and R600 000 on reducing the deman for rhino horn.
“We recognised that one of our country’s most iconic animals could be wiped off the planet and wanted to be part of the solution,” said Dos Santos.
Since 2012 the number of rhinos that have been poached has increased year on year. But there was a decrease in 2015 and last year according to the latest statistics released by the Department of Environmental Affairs.
They also show that there has been a slight decrease for the first six months of this year compared to last year. Since January 529 rhinos have been killed, 13 less than last year.
She said one of the most difficult aspects of combating poaching was reducing the demand for rhino horn and ivory in the key regions of Vietnam and China. Reducing demand in the region was a sensitive issue because of the centuries of ingrained culture around the perceived benefits of rhino horn.
This year Rhino Lifeline partnered with WildAid who brought Chinese art collector and celebrity Ma Weidu on board as an ambassador for elephant and rhino. Through this partnership Ma travelled to South Africa in June to experience conservation efforts first -hand. Ma is now using his influence among antique collectors in China to promote anti-poaching campaigns as well as dispelling the myth that there is any medicinal value in rhino horn.
“This is a market that Investec Rhino Lifeline would struggle to reach,” said Dos Santos.
Key to education was getting through to the youth that live in communities around game reserves and national parks, she added. “We believe it is critical to get kids connected with nature.”
Rhino Lifeline has also partnered with two organisations that help with educating the youth. The Coaching for Conservation programme is a six week after-school course where children are taught the characteristics of the animal while also learning valuable lessons in maths and English. Coaching for Conservation also develops future rhino custodians. The children are rewarded with a trip to the bush at the end of the programme to experience what they've learnt.
The other educational partnership is with the Good Work Foundation which has set up digital learning centres for rural communities to further their education and pursue a wildlife career.
Since its inception, 6400 children have passed through these educational programmes. The skills from these programmes help people gain employment in the tourism sector and build up communities around game reserves and wildlife.
Dos Santos said there were enormous benefits for communities to centre tourism on rhinos and wildlife. The tourism industry brings in employment, increased local spending and community inclusion through land programmes.