Theater of Cruelty

Is the rhino's destiny inevitable?

In southern Africa, a particularly humble and absurd war takes place – low in its bestiality, absurd because it is based on old superstition.


The war is fought with sharp shots, and both animals and people fall. International crime syndicates are investing big capital in the pursuit of something worth more than gold, but which has nothing more concrete to offer than keratin, a substance we humans have nibbled on in nails and hair. Of course, this is about the rhino, a critically endangered species. In recent years, the killings have increased dramatically: In 2008, the number of rhinos killed in South Africa, where the majority of the species lives, is 83. 8 years later, in 2016, 1075 turned white (Ceratotherium simum) and blacks (Diceros bicornis) rhinos as victims of the slaughter. It is possible that the last species of the species has already been born. An understaffed and underpaid group rangers – rhino keepers – risk life around the clock to prevent animals from suffering a painful and often slow death after the horn and half face have been chopped off with an ax. Therefore, the rule for the anti-sniper units also applies "shoot first, ask the page". Since 2008, 500 snipers have been killed, while these have killed at least 5940 African rhinos.

No fair trade

This war is particularly complicated because it is raging on the African continent, while the market is on the Asian. In an ancient culture such as the Chinese, powdered horn goes from the rhinoceros to being a medical miracle cure, and the horn itself is a status symbol. Convincing the Chinese that their faith is based on misinformation – that in order to achieve the effect they desire, they could just as easily bite their nails for free – is like telling Christians that it is pointless to believe in Jesus Christ. Therefore, consumers pay sky-high sums, up to 65 dollars, for 000 kilo of horn. If one looks at the decimation of species in China and at the Chinese indifference to animal cruelty in their own culture, one can also deduce that their interest in fair trade and bad conscience for the case of rhinoceros equals zero.

Despite the ban

The fight for the rhino has become a flagship project for countless environmental organizations and international institutions. In 1976, CITES, the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Wild Species of Fauna and Flora, banned the trade of (nes) horns, with some exceptions. But this has obviously not prevented the slaughter of these animals, which have existed on Earth for millions of years. The black rhino, one of the surviving species and the most critically endangered, is one of the rarest large mammals in the world. In May 2019, CITES 'next meeting will take place, and the question of allowing horn trade to quell the black exchange market is expected to be on the program – again. Now this is a platform where international forums take on the leadership role in matters that ultimately have the greatest consequences in countries far away, where overpopulation, poverty and crime often play an increasingly important role. What do the people who live close to the problems really say?

oasis Entrepreneur

The owners of the safari farm Mount Etjo Safari Lodge in Namibia have a lot to say on the theme. This is no ordinary gathering place for tourists on a short journey among the "animals in Africa", but among other places where an independent Namibia saw the light of day. The UN Mount Etjo Declaration was the result of meetings that led to the nation's liberation from South Africa in 1990.

Oelofse started with two empty hands and a phone hanging from a tree – today huser his farm around 8000 animals spread over 30 hectares of land.

Why here? Because the man who built the farm, Jan Oelofse, was a legendary environmentalist and internationally renowned innovator of wildlife management (search on "The Oelofse Method"). This colorful entrepreneur turned the scarce agricultural land into an ecosystem where Africa's wild animals and birds got their new home. Mount Etjo Safari Lodge – also called Okonjati Wildlife Sanctuary - became one of the first private game reserves in Namibia. Oelofse started with two empty hands and a phone hanging from a tree – today huser his farm around 8000 animals spread over 30 hectares of land.

Video interview with Anette Oelofse

(Video made by Ranveig Eckhoff and Rainer Baake)

I am visiting Mount Etjo for the third time. The first time, twelve years ago, I was on a five-week assignment. There were many walks through the landscape with Jan and wife Annette. In an open jeep, one day we slowly rolled through golden grass in the evening sun. Giraffes looked over the tree tops – a wildebeest was digging a bed. Suddenly the jeep suddenly stops. Out of the bushes a rhinoceros and her calf line up in direct line with us. Jan and Annette get out of the jeep and greet the colossus. NOSSI. It will be a warm meeting, with as much embrace as a rhino's physique allows. Nossie sniffs at me, the stranger, until she lets me pass. Annette and the calf talk baby horns for a while before mom takes the little one with her and delves into the bushes again.

Big task

The pure magic of this moment never leaves me: the wild rhino that hooks up in my sweater. Nossie was among the lucky ones. Her mother was killed by poachers, and her calf spent only a week in Etosha National Park before falling ill. The park administration knew about Jan's rare knowledge of animals and left Nossie and her offspring to the Oelofse couple. They nursed the calf around the clock, until after a few years she returned to a life in the open air. But she obviously never forgot her foster parents. Today, 23 years later, she has given birth to her seventh calf, which she faithfully comes and shows to her human mother. Jan no longer lives, but orphaned rhino calves still find their way to Mount Etjo, where Annette and her son Alex keep the tradition alive. And it is no small task. The calves get milk for up to two years, which costs around 100 kroner. Annette, a tall, slender woman with wild hair and a wide-brimmed hat, who herself grew up in the bush, takes me to the two rhino sisters she is currently retiring from. The baby bottle is, like the babies, size XXL. There is a bit of pushing, as the sisters do not know what to think about the uninvited guest. Then the feeding is over for the next three to four hours.

Difficult field

Over a cup of tea outside the Oelofse home, the discussion of the rhino's fate is inevitable. Private game farms are playing an increasingly important role in the fight against international criminal organizations. Today, over 6500 rhinos are on private hands in South Africa, where the iconic animal is valued as national heritage silver. This corresponds to 37 per cent of the country's total population and more than the rest of Africa's total. But the cost of protecting the animal has skyrocketed with the criminal slaughter, and the loss of just one animal is a greater financial burden.

The rhinoceros "wonder drug" is keratin, a substance we humans have nibbled on in nails and hair.

Consequently, the number of rhino farms in southern Africa has decreased over the past couple of years, and we are now in the situation that a rhino is more worth dead than alive. All the financial resources that are spent on protecting the endangered animal are naturally at the expense of other important environmental work. The loss of human life has also added an ethical dimension to the debate: Is it worth it? Is the rhino – or any animal – worth it? Is it not ultimately the course of evolution that species come and go?

Think New

Annette and Alex ask if it's not time to try new roads, since everyone who has tried so far seems to be failing. How about "harvesting" the horn, which is painless for the animal, which also stands there with a new horn after a few years? How about legalizing the trade in horns again – and so stifling the black exchange trade? How about selling the reserves of horns that are in large, secret stores and using the money to arm the security forces? Opponents of legalization, including top politicians in Europe, accuse farmers of thinking only of their own profits. An uninformed point of view, Alex objected. A wild farmer who wants to keep the rhino will necessarily go bankrupt if development continues as it does today. But some believe that the legal trade in horns will only cause the illegal ditto to infiltrate the market and make the criminals invisible. Alex is a generous young man with arms in his belt and great patience: “We don't know if legal trading will solve the problem. We just know that the ban did not. And the fact is that legal rhino business is controlled at every conceivable level. To penetrate these needle-eye for sniper syndicates does not help kaleidoscopes, helicopters or poor people on the ground, risking their lives for money. ”

Our responsibility

But the enemy is powerful – maybe overpowering. Should we really give up – leave the problems to an "evolution" we ourselves have interfered with with fateful consequences? One who made a clear warning to us already over 200 years ago was the Indian chief Seattle: "If all animals were lost, man would die of great spiritual loneliness. For what happens to the animals will soon be human. All things are connected. ” It feels absurd to sit on the balcony and look out over Mount Etjo's pastoral idyll, where antelope grasses, hippos grunt in the pond and flamingos stroll – where Nossie's descendants are talking about finding no new solutions – where species' lives have been threatened by humans who have replaced humanity with greed. It is also absurd that those who want humanity spend their time disagreeing while the rhino dies. The struggle for existence is an eternal battle for all species, but we are the only species that knows what it does to the rest.

Ranveig Eckhoff
Ranveig Eckhoff
Eckhoff is a regular reviewer for Ny Tid.

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