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TEDx Johannesburg – Farming rhinos

It may have nothing to do with technology, but since TED is all about creative, perception changing thinking, we thought this story might be an interesting read.

Twenty one years ago John Hume bought a farm in Mpumalanga with the idea of retiring. He bought some animals, which included, among other things,  five Rhino.

Today he has over 900. He’d have more if he hadn’t lost 12 to poaching over the past couple of years. Hume isn’t as affected by this scourge as the government parks and other private game farms, however. And he says it’s the result of a self fulfilling prophecy.

To combat the fact that Rhino populations were being steadily wiped out (and demand for Rhino horn being created) during the 60s, 70s and 80s, an internal moratorium was put in place in 2009, banning the sale of Rhino horn in South Africa. Before that, farmers were able the satisfy at least some of the demand from the East for the rare product by de-horning their animals or selling the horns of deceased Rhino.

Today the only way the demand can be met is for poaching to commence. Or as he suggests, to legalise the trade in Rhino horn.

“The demand is still there,” he says, “and by stopping the supply, we’ve failed to satisfy it.

“If it was legalised and ethically sourced from those that don’t kill Rhinos, that demand could be met.”

Hume says the solution lies in de horning the animals, a painless process (as the horn is cut off above the quick, like a toenail) that takes under 20 minutes per animal. The horns furthermore re-grow, at a rate of 10cm per year. Extrapolate that over the lifetime of the animal and you’re talking about a yield of 40kg of horn per female Rhino and between 60kg and 80kg per male over a 45 year period.

“I furthermore believe that private sector farmers have the resources to protect the animals far better than the public sector. We just need to make it  viable for them to do so,” he says.

“My passion is to save Rhinos,” he continues, “and in order to do that, we must increase the rate of breeding and decrease the rate of killing. We must furthermore make it attractive to communities to breed and protect Rhino. And what better way to do that than create a financial incentive for them to  do so?”

Currently, Hume says that rural communities currently only supply a fertile ground for the recruitment of poachers. “Those communities could be a fertile ground for farming. They have done extremely well with livestock in the past. And they could generate a massive income from this.

He points to a great case study for this, the South American vicuña (Vicugna vicugna) – a small llama-like animal – whose pelt was hugely sought after for Italian garments. The animal was nearly hunted to extinction (the population was as low as 6000 worldwide at one stage), but the moment communities learned to shear the wool from the animal and could derive an income from that, the population started bouncing back.

Today, 35 years after animal was close to extinction, the population of vicuña has bounced back to well in excess of 300 000.

Hume says he believes the same could be true of Rhino populations.

Today, there’s an estimated 20 000 rhino left in Africa.

(picture credit: rhinoconservation.org)

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