One of the highlights of 2013 was joining the Trec1000 (Tintswalo Rhino Extreme Campaign) crew for their last few days of walking in the Manyaleti Reserve, with Head Ranger Fritz Breytenbach leading the Tintswalo Safari Lodge initiative.
Walking to create awareness and raise money for their anti-poaching campaign, being there in July as they reached their 1000km mark was truly a privilege and brought home the strong message that ‘every step we take counts’. Read my post here – Trec1000 Every Step Matters.
However having reached the 1000km mark, Fritz Breytenbach realised that his work was far but done. Using the precious time away from his lodge management schedule, he continues tirelessly with his research into the rhino poaching syndicates and developing vital awareness campaigns.
I returned in late October to join Fritz as he visited children in surrounding villages in a bid to educate them on the value of our rhino and their current vulnerability. To talk to them about the poaching problem.
Many of the ‘on the ground amateur poachers’ are recruited from these communities by rhino horn syndicates. With employment standing at the +-15% mark and only about 6% of those jobs at neighbouring lodges, there are a lot of people living in desperate situations. Vulnerable to the temptation that a well dressed individual flaunting the promise of good cash in exchange for a rhino horn brings.
It literally is the picking fields and the work that Fritz is doing is invaluable.
We spent some time in Welverdiend, a village that adjoins the Manyaleti Reserve border. This area forms a vital part of the TREC1000 community work and Fritz and Mpho will be visiting near 60 schools in similar villages in the new year.
He invited the little girls we met to draw rhino in the sand, reminding me that most of the children living in these areas have never seen a rhino. Something that is hard to imagine, giving their close proximity to the Big 5 reserves.
Clearing a ‘canvas’ in the sand, the children drew a rhino from their imagination. They mostly resemble cows, some have horns, many don’t. These are near mythical creatures to them. Something they have heard about in passing. They don’t have the emotional connection to rhinos that I do, and nor should I expect them to.
Then Fritz takes to the floor, drawing with ease a rhino so perfect that it all comes together for me. He talks to the children about the risk that the rhino are under, that their horns hold no real value. About the ‘bad people’ that kill them for money. How many are being killed daily in the area.
He wipes away the horn with one swipe to demonstrate this, then adds tears to emphasise the suffering they endure. The children listen. They connect. Fritz engages them and the impact is very real.
Interestingly enough, in these areas many of the teachers are from Ghana, Palestine, Kenya. Not South Africa. Their education is the best it can be, the school is well maintained and bigger than I’d imagined. Yet when we ask the children, they say they learn nothing about game or the poaching problem. It is not included in their syllabus.
Fritz and I discuss this. Is it because the teachers are not from South Africa and their focus is elsewhere? Or is it simply not perceived to be a priority.
This heightens the value of the work being done by Fritz and Mpho, how necessary it is and how the long term solution to the poaching problem, to anything, is in the basics, in one on one education. In making friends for the rhino.
Clearing the canvas in the sand.
First up a rhino from a little girls imagination. And its pretty good.
Fritz and baby girl as she has a go.
The Fritz took to the ground, a lesson in visual art.
Fritz drawing a rhino in the sand.
If I take anything from my relationship with Trec1000 it is the life altering lesson that nothing in black and white. The complexities are endless and all we can do is keep working towards making a difference.
Gorgeous child this x.
Sweet pup needs its tummy scratched.
The irony as we were driving out of Weverdient was the giant house with its six foot wall, security and opulent gold trim on the gate. When I asked I was told it belonged to a ‘community leader’. Yet my heart lurched as deep inside I suspected that in our very midst were the men behind some of the killings. Flaunting their wealth unashamedly. The blood money offering false allure to a would be poacher, aged between 16 and 35 on average.
In 2013 more than 900 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa.