2016: Year of the Rhino

By Jamie Joseph
Thanks to the support of Imake a Difference, I am now planting roots back in my homeland South Africa, where the majority of the remaining 25 000 wild rhinos are tinkering on the brink of extinction. And the weakest link in this poaching crisis is the South African government as they continue to fail epically in their duty to protect our natural heritage.
But the good news is that Africa’s most corrupt country is not immune to public pressure. South Africans just need to wake up and unite, as shown recently with the #ZumaMustFall grassroots movement. What started out as a vent on twitter, turned into organised marches and the extremely unpopular President even topped the Oscar Pistorious trial to become the number 1 trending hashtag on local social media. Zuma did a quick U Turn on his decision to hire rookie David van Rooyen as Finance Minister, and political will was driven by the power of the people. Social media is a catalyst for change, and this moment in South African history cannot be ignored.

So why can’t we unite on the rhino crisis? 2016 has to be the Year of the Rhino. Right now a rhino is killed every eight hours, we’re ending the year on a poaching record high, and we absolutely cannot wait around for someone else to put an end to this wildlife holocaust. In the words of the late great Nelson Mandela, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

the beast - photo credit Jamie Joseph - Saving the Wild  (2)Photo credit: Jamie Joseph / Saving the Wild
the beast - photo credit Jamie Joseph - Saving the Wild  (1)Photo credit: Jamie Joseph / Saving the Wild

African Celebrities lead the charge on home soil

This month marks the beginning of a new chapter in the movement to save these magnificent prehistoric beasts as WildAid begins to harness the star power of African celebrities. I recently went behind the scenes at a media campaign shoot with Springbok rugby player Tendai Nihal “Beast” Mtawarira, one of a handpicked selection of prominent Africans that will lead the charge on home soil.
The message the Springbok is taking to his fans is: “We don’t want your money, we want your voice, because poaching steals from us all.”
He is joined by other African celebrities; DJ Fresh, Marc Lottering, and fellow rugby players Joe Pietersen, Siyabonga Ntubeni and Siya Kolisi. And that’s just the starting line up.

South Africans were up in arms over the rand hitting an all time low after this whole Finance Minister fiasco, but if we lose ours rhinos, the elephants are next, and a ‘Big 3’ safari is not going to cut it. Hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost, and economies will tumble, causing more poverty and more conflict. People need to realise that this national security crisis is just as much about humans as it is about animals.


hanoi-uniUniversity of Hanoi Faculty of Pharmacy sign the World Youth Wildlife Declaration against poaching and Wildlife Crime
Photo credit US Embassy Vietnam - webSouth African delegation hand over the World Youth Wildlife Declaration at Wildfest

African and Vietnamese youth unite

A youth awareness campaign, spearheaded by Project Rhino KZN, reached for the skies last month when six South African Youth Rhino Ambassadors (aged 17 to 25) were invited by the governments of Vietnam and the US to visit Hanoi, an epicentre of rhino horn demand in Vietnam. Their ‘Operation Game Change’ mission: Unite the power of young African and Asian voices, calling for an end to the brutal slaughter of the world’s last remaining rhinos, and speak out against all forms of illegal wildlife trafficking.

Says Grant Fowlds, Project Rhino KZN co-ordinator and Vietnam liaison, “It was two very productive weeks of meetings and discussions, workshops and presentations. This all culminated in the handing over of the World Youth Wildlife Declaration to the people of Vietnam at WildFest, attended by more than 5000 youth. And we absolutely believe that the youth we connected with will never buy rhino horn.”

Not surprisingly, the Vietnamese the mission team spoke with never knew rhinos suffered, and they never knew that rhino horn doesn’t have any medicinal properties – their primary reason to never accept, gift or use.
The next wave of educators, politicians and activists is going to come from this generation, and so the future really is in their hands. Look out for the third World Youth Rhino Summit taking place next year, tipped to shake up this youth movement to a whole new level.
savingthewild_robyn_preston_ (1)Photo credit: Robyn Preston
fortunate_rhinoPhoto credit: Fortunate Phaka
global march for elephants and rhinosPhoto credit: Dex Kotze

Jamie Joseph regularly writes stories from the frontline, working alongside Africa’s most pioneering conservationists. Follow the journey on Facebook and Twitter.