There is a rhinometer in the local newspaper. It tracks the number of rhinos killed. It is the kind of thermometer you see when people are fundraising, where you want the red to reach the top, signifying your fundraising target. Yet with the rhinometer the red symbolizes the blood of rhinos, you pray it does not keep rising.
We are in Kwa Zulu Natal. On Monday the meter indicates 54 killed in the province and by Friday it reads 60. Despite the noble efforts of scouts, agencies, concerned citizens, and conservation groups, the slaughter continues. Each day we hear of one, two killed. One every 13 hours in South Africa. A guard sits on a rock, holds his head in his hands, distraught. These are the brave men putting their lives on the line to protect these mighty mammals.
Another day we hear from the head of security, “We just got another report, one is shot, still alive, she has a baby with her.” These are the realities in the bush. Leakage points have been identified at the Mozambican border. They move in quickly, well trained, one shot, horn hacked, boiled to dissolve the micro-chip and they go back across the border. Done. In 2005 South Africa lost 14 rhinos. Last year 668 were poached, these are the known deaths. This year the projections put poaching at over 1,000—a horrific number.
On our drive out of a reserve we see two rhinos peacefully grazing. These enormous, prehistoric creatures have thrived for centuries. We watch as they eat, in silence. A rhino was poached that morning in the same reserve. Watching these rhinos now feels different, sacred. None of us speak, but we are all thinking about the same thing, their future, their survival.
Photos by: Phil Perry Wildlife Photography
Kathleen Fitzgerald is AWF's Vice President, Programs East and Southern Africa. She works closely with staff to design and direct land and habitat conservation projects across the continent, including establishing community conservancies, securing wildlife corridors, and improving management of protected areas and community lands.
AWF Blogs bring you to the critical landscapes we work in, where conservation benefits both wildlife and people alike. The blogs are written by our staff - men and women who have dedicated their lives to Africa's wildlife, people and wild lands.
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