RHINOS WITHOUT BORDERS - EXTREME MEASURES FOR EXTREME TIMES
In April 2015, the largest plane ever to land at Maun airport touched down in Botswana. Arriving from South Africa, the passengers on board were carefully transferred to private vehicles and driven to a secret location in the Okavango Delta with a military escort some 60 members strong.
On board was not a delegation of fat cats from the African Union but a cargo far more important. Rhinos; an animal persecuted to such an extent that the latest figures estimate that a rhino is killed every 7.5 hours. With approx. 4,000 to 5,000 white rhinos and 20,000 black rhinos left alive in Africa today, one doesn’t need to be a mathematical genius to realise current levels of poaching are simply unsustainable and if unabated will lead to the extinction of one of Africa’s most iconic animals within less than 4 years.
Faced with this appalling prospect, Rhinos Without Borders was conceived, a partnership between Great Plains Conservation and & Beyond to move 200 rhinos from the highest poaching zones in South Africa to the country with the lowest poaching zones in the whole of Africa, Botswana.
Renowned filmmakers and wildlife photographers, Dereck and Beverly Joubert are founders of Great Plains Conservation and have been instrumental in the careful planning of the rhino translocation. The Jouberts spend much of their time living at Duba Plains Camp in the Okavango Delta so are acutely aware of what is at stake and why Botswana is the safest haven for animals like elephants and rhinos.
“The policy in Botswana is shoot to kill” Dereck explains, referring to the country’s zero tolerance approach to poachers. “They take this very seriously, from the president and the minister of the environment, wildlife and tourism down.”
The rhinos love their new home and the latest news is that 3 rhinos are pregnant. With more rhinos dying than are currently being born, this is encouraging news and is exactly what Rhinos Without Borders is hoping to achieve.
“We are trying to create a breeding nucleus” says Dereck Joubert.
Tourism is a key part of Rhinos Without Borders strategy to ensure that local communities benefit from a thriving population of rhinos. With reports of communities in South Africa supporting poachers for a cut of horn sales, winning the hearts and minds of local people in the fight against poaching is critical. With rhino horn worth more than gold in China and Vietnam, tourism cannot compete in its capacity to line pockets so the desire to protect rhinos has to be motivated by more than just money. The people I spoke to on a visit to & Beyond’s camps in the Delta were all working in tourism and were outwardly proud that their homeland had been chosen to offer a safe haven for rhinos, none more so than my guide on a memorable safari at Xudum Okavango Delta Lodge:
“The future of rhinos and elephants is my future and more importantly the future of my children. I do not want to hand down a life to my children where animals like the rhino are nothing but figures in a story told by the camp fire.”