Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe

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Rural communities can help stem rhino poaching

Rural communities can help stem rhino poaching
John Hume biggest rhino breeder in  the world

John Hume biggest rhino breeder in the world

Emmanuel Koro
AGAINST a background where Africa’s rhino population is on the brink of extinction, a South Africa-based rhino breeder has given a unique and free offer to train rural African communities to breed the white rhino. This has never been done before.

“The white rhino can easily be bred like cattle as I’m currently doing on the ranch,” said Mr John Hume who started farming at the age of 14 and has a total of 1 500 white rhino (bigger than Kenya’s total rhino population) on his 8 000 hectare ranch.

“In order to save the white rhino from extinction, I’m offering all Southern African governments an opportunity to send representatives of rural communities to come and train for free on how to breed rhino on my ranch but they would have to pay for their food and accommodation.”

He said African governments could give the very same rhinos that are being poached daily to rural communities neighbouring national parks and game reserves to breed and also benefit from them.

“If a community is not going to benefit from the sale of the rhino horn, they would be the first ones to poach the rhino and sell the horn on the black market,” said Mr Hume.

“So, rhino conservation will never work until the communities can sell their rhino horn just like the communities in South America are now selling their Vicuña that has a similar history to the CITES rhino horn international ban. The Vicuña population has since increased from 5 000 about 40 years ago to a total population of 450 000 now because people see the incentive to conserving the Vicuña. This is exactly what we’re saying; the rhino horn should be harvested and traded without killing the rhino.”

He said it was important for African rural communities to start breeding the rhino whose horn re-grows to one-kilogramme annually.

They can harvest the horn by cutting it off, selling it and using the money to save the rhino and also improve their welfare by building their own schools and hospitals.

“It’s absolute madness that we’re not following the Vicuña parallel with our African rhino,” said Mr Hume.

Mr Hume said, “The UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) international rhino horn trade ban that has been in place and has not worked to stop rhino poaching for the past 40 years makes it unsustainable for African people and their governments to continue paying for rhino conservation without benefits from trade in rhino horn, because without trade there’s no incentive to save the rhino.”

This, he said, curiously suits the animal rights groups and poachers who continue to benefit from the rhino poaching crisis by asking for millions of dollars to save a species for which funds they collect hardly reach their intended destination.

Mr Hume said Western countries’ animal rights groups have continued to be bankrolled by billionaire-businesspeople whom they misinform that trade in rhino horn will drive the rhino closer to extinction when in actual fact it does not.

But out of ignorance or conservation values that are in conflict with those of African people and African rhino range states — these billionaires then continue to influence CITES member countries to vote against strictly controlled international trade in rhino horn.

“These animal rights groups include Wild Aid, Born Free Foundation, International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Humane Society of the United States,” said Mr Hume.

“Why do they continue to ban rhino horn trade that is aimed to save the rhino as we believe in Africa? I suspect there’ll get very little money when the rhino is no longer endangered.”

Nevertheless, the hope for saving Africa’s rhinos is not lost, said Mr Hume, who believes that the world would soon come to its senses and make the rhino pay in order to stay, through the long-sought-after CITES strictly controlled international trade in rhino horn.

Rhino breeding would increase the numbers and CITES would have no leg to stand on to ban strictly controlled trade in rhino.

Mr Hume uses a rotational grazing system just like cattle farmers do.

He has 14 000 spacious white rhino grazing camps. Just like cattle farmers do, Mr Hume refers to female rhinos as cows and male rhinos as bulls and their young ones as calf.

Giving a stunning revelation that gives inexperienced and prospective rhino breeders hope for rhino breeding success, Mr Hume said, “When I bought my wildlife ranch in Mpumalanga in 1990 with the intention to breed white rhino, I had never seen a rhino and never had anything to do with a rhino. I had seen them at a distance at the Kruger National Park.”

Two years later, Mr Hume started buying white and black rhinos for breeding. He discovered that they were wonderful animals which were being persecuted by poachers.

“I discovered that we were losing thousands of rhinos to poachers,” said Mr Hume. “I started thinking of how I could help the rhinos and the best way I thought I could help stop them from becoming extinct was breeding them, which is what I’ve been doing for the past 20 years.”

Unfortunately, in 2006 Mr Hume’s Mpumalanga rhino breeding ranch was hit by rhino poachers almost dashing his hopes of saving a wildlife species that the entire world has been struggling to save.

Faced with the poaching problem, Mr Hume soon discovered that he needed to change his breeding location from his Mpumalanga ranch whose beautiful tree canopies, mountains, rivers and dongas also provided good hiding places for poachers; making it difficult to stop them from poaching on his ranch.

“I decided to find a place like this (his North West rhino breeding ranch) that is flat, it’s good grassland, its good cattle country and therefore it’s good for the rhino. One can spot poachers easily in this flat terrain,” he said.

“I believe it’s possible to save the rhino and I’m working to prove it. I believe I have the recipe for preventing the rhino from becoming extinct through my breeding method.”

Mr Hume said the recipe for successful rhino breeding involves the breeding of more rhinos per square-kilometre not what is currently happening at the Kruger National Park or anywhere else.

“In order to do that, you have to feed the rhinos in one camp,” said Mr Hume.

“We supplement the feed of our rhinos with about three tonnes of concentrates in winter and we bring them into relatively smaller but open areas where they still roam freely in a wilderness environment. It’s a much heavier rhino stocking rate per kilometre than you would get at the Kruger National Park for instance. Because we give our white rhino supplementary feeding and because they breed so well, they’re very happy in this environment.”

Mr Hume said their supplementary white rhino feed is to ensure that the rhinos have protein content.

“Our supplementary white rhino feed has a little grass in it, harmony chop, sunflower cake and Lucerne which gives it a much higher nutrition level.”

They feed each rhino with three tonnes of concentrate annually.

“That’s about 15kgs of concentrate feed per rhino daily. Apart from conserving the white rhino by breeding them, I’m also supporting South Africa’s stock feed industry because I buy about 4 500 tonnes of stock feed annually. We support the growers of Lucerne, maize and sunflower as well. That’s about R10 million spent on stock feed only.”

Mr Hume said the security costs “are quite horrendous”.

“So I need to sell rhino horn in order to pay for the protection of my rhino,” said Mr Hume.

Sadly, as long at the CITES ban on international trade in rhino horn remains in place, rhino breeders such as Mr Hume, including African rhino range states such as Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland, South Africa and Zimbabwe who for years have been calling for strictly controlled international trade in rhino horn so that the rhino can pay to stay will continue to pay for rhino conservation, without benefits from trade.

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