• Aditi Saksena

Rhino Conservation with Global Conservation Force

“You really don’t have to be a conservationist or conservation expert to help the cause. You can be in any field and have any skill set, all you have to have is the will to make a difference.”

-Mike Veale, Founder and President, Global Conservation Force

Every year on the 22nd of September, animal enthusiasts celebrate World Rhino Day and for this day we were picking the brains of Mike Veale, who has had the opportunity to be the primary caretaker of the last few northern White Rhinos left on Earth, to know the world of Rhinoceroses a lot better. After this conversation, we realized that there is so much that we take for granted. It’s often said that we don’t realize the value of something until we lose it. And the unfortunate truth is, now that we have a clearer understanding of what Rhinos do for us and the environment we are on the brim of losing them. However, doing something is better than not doing anything. We might not be able to completely revive them, but we can help buy them time to recover. A lot of this sounds like a riddle, so I will unriddle as we move forward, we will dive into what Global Conservation Force does, What are the various insights we learned in this conversation and how can normal people like you and I help the system get better.

About Rhinos

What real purpose do Rhinos serve?

What is being done to protect them?

What can we do to protect them?

One super fun fact that I learned about Rhinos was that the first-ever record of Unicorns actually originated in the Indian Subcontinent when the Great One-Horned Rhino was mistaken for a horse and the viewer assumed that he was looking at a horse with a horn. We can’t comment on whether or not this historical account is true, but the circumstances seem plausible as the species that predated the Great One-Horned Rhino had a horn that measured up to 2 meters high. In fact, A rhino and a horse are more closely related than you’d think, they have similar gut processing systems. The sad part is with their population continuously declining, we might not have any more wildly imaginative stories.

Coming to Rhinos, we currently have 5 rhino species in the world with their collective population estimated to be less than 30,000 individuals. We have the Sumatran Rhino found in Sumatra and Borneo, The Javan Rhinos found in Java, the Black and White Rhinos found in South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, and southern African nations, and the Great One-horned Rhino found in India and Nepal. Unfortunately, though we have a variety of species still living and breathing among us, their IUCN status ranges between Vulnerable and Near Threatened. In our last article, we spoke about what IUCN is (Read article: Red Pandas and how can we save them), here we will give you a little more information about the status: The IUCN status ranges from LC which stands for Least Concerned, and goes all the way up to EX which stands for Extinct. In between ranges: Vulnerable (VU), Near Threatened (NT), Endangered (ED), Critically Endangered (CR), and Extinct in the Wild (CW). For example: Although the White Rhinos are Near Threatened which means they are in a better shape than the other species, the Northern White Rhinos are Extinct in the Wild. Statistically, it doesn’t look very good for rhinos around the world.

Different species of Rhinos- World Rhino Day
The different species of Rhinos

About Rhinos

Interestingly rhinos only give birth to 4 or 6 calves in their lifetime. They are a slow recovering species and their best shot at survival currently is probably buying them enough time that they are able to recover on their own.

“ The best way to help out rhinos or any species really is giving them their space and time.”

Said Mike during the interview. Humans have a tendency to want to do good things, however, the more we meddle with nature, the more damage we end up doing, even if our intentions are pure.

Rhinos can run up to a speed of 30-35 miles per hour, which is really fast, then how is it that they are able to be poached? Well, the answer is really simple and something that the Global Conservation Force is trying to rectify. Rhinos in their natural habitat do not really have any true predators- which means there is no real threat of them getting hunted as prey, which is why their instincts give them away. Most poaching activities go down between the time of 2 am to 6 am and the poachers are equipped with rifles that have bullets that can take down an elephant. Rhinos being territorial animals are quite easy to place and although they have a great sense of smell, the poachers use wind direction to their advantage. Moreover, as I mentioned before, due to the absence of a real predator, their first response to signs of danger is trying to listen before they realize they should be running. This lack of response gives an experienced poacher 30 seconds time period to take his shot, which is really more than enough. They generally shoot the animal and then proceed to dehorn them via an axe, machete, or sometimes even saws. Yay, humans and their curiosity. However, it is not the bullet that kills them, most rhinos survive it, it is the excessive bleeding after the horn is removed that ultimately kills them. There are instances where the rhinos have survived it, but imagine it being lifelong emotional scarring and disfigurement that they undergo.

Thandi the White Rhino- World Rhino Day
Thandi and her calf in 2013

A very well-documented example of a rhino surviving even after being dehorned brutally would be Thandi, a female White Rhino, luckily her story ended well, with the birth of two baby calves. But that’s not the case for most rhinos. Even if by chance, a rhino does survive an incident where its mother has been shot down by poachers or they themselves have survived a brutal act of poaching, it leaves them psychologically unwell for the rest of their life and extremely hypersensitive after which helping them is not really much of an option or choice.

Why are Rhinos subjected to such ordeals?

While we want to blame the ancient medicinal records of China that claim rhino horns contain medicinal properties and can treat even serious illnesses such as Cancer. The real culprit here is our consumerism. Mike speaks about two lines of thought: The Ferrari Effect and the Robinhood Ferrari Complex, both plaguing two different types of strata. The organized crime network along with the Criminal network convince the people living in the low socio-economic class that Rhino horns have a lot of money in it and that if they involve themselves in the trade, they will have all the money they ever need. What they leave out is that it is not sustainable and the massive damage it does to the ecology that they themselves live in. This is the Robinhood Ferrari Complex which is run by the demand that comes from the Ferrari Effect- which is the demand created by corporations in China, Vietnam, and the likes. Since Rhino horns have become a cultural symbol of status and power, it is yielded to impress the other members of the higher socio-economic strata. Or otherwise, the people are convinced by criminal organizations that the rhino horns can cure their loved ones of any ailment and it becomes their last-ditch effort. But the sad reality of the matter is, Rhino horns are made of Keratin, which is the same substance our nails and hair are made of. If rhino horns really did have any real medical benefit, the same could be reciprocated from our own bodies.

Most Southern African countries are fighting something that is called the Rhino Wars. Rhino wars are essentially a fight to stop Rhino poaching in South African countries. But the root cause is not in Southern African countries, it dates back to Colonial times when British and Belgium citizens would hunt rhinos as trophies. It was not uncommon for Colonial times to hunt animals however we are facing the consequences of those actions today. This later grew folds in the 70s and 80s when the economy in most Southern African countries started hitting rock bottom and since then there has been active engagement from both conservationists and the poachers which finally culminated into the Rhino Wars.

However, dehorning of rhinos is not the only threat that lurks over them, poaching combined with habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and human encroachment have also contributed significantly to their decline. Rhinos by diet are herbivores and their source food is taken away significantly due to logging and agricultural practices that are unsustainable.

What real purpose do Rhinos serve?

This was something even I was unaware of and pleasantly surprised me. Elephants are often dubbed as the “Creators of Jungles” well Rhinos should be dubbed as the “Gardeners of the Jungles”, it doesn’t sound as cool but it really is. I mentioned before that primarily rhinos are herbivores, their diet depends on the species. They can either be Grazers or Browsers. For example, The White Rhinos are grazers: think of them as lawnmowers, they help keep the ecology healthy by fertilizing the field, chewing down overgrown grass fields, and creating pathways for other animals, while The Great One-Horned rhino, The Black rhino, Javan Rhinos, and Sumatran Rhinos are all browsers which means they are tree cutters, they trim and cut down trees and keep the ecology healthy and going by maintaining biodiversity in their areas, they help the tree species to grow without a problem by eating anything that could potentially obstruct their growth and thereby checking on wildfires as well. Rhinos have proven to be Keystone species in a lot of their habitats and now when some of the habitats can no longer support these rhinos is when we realize the damage that has been caused due to the bizarre response of the ecology in those habitats.

Kaziranga National Park in India is a major habitat for Rhinos, you can always visit and see these magnificent dodos, that is if your luck is on your side.

What is being done for rhino conservation?

Now that we have some insight into what is happening. I can either give you good news or bad news. While Charles says that always go for bad news because the good news is just bad news in disguise (See what I did there) I would start with the good news, there has been a lot of things are being done in the field and in courtrooms to help with conservation in Rhinos, so much so that statistically the numbers are dropping. The bad news is, the numbers dropping is not a real victory, majorly because there aren’t a lot of rhinos to hunt. Their numbers are dropping and finding them is becoming more and more difficult for poachers. Huh, Charles was right.

But, as I said, a lot is being done for example Global Conservation Force has been training anti-poaching squads in all rhino countries to be more efficient, more alert and equipped to deal with situations. They update their squad’s equipment and gears, impart the necessary training and let the squad take care of the area that they are assigned. If you would like to see a few clips of their training, you can always check them out on Mike’s Instagram. (Shout out to their videographer!) They also educate the veterinarians to give proper courtroom expert statements so that the trials can be fruitful and poachers can be brought to justice (Rangers are not considered as experts in the field despite their extensive experience in the said field). One of the most important tasks undertaken now is creating a horn database that can potentially not only link the confiscated horn to the criminal network behind the poaching but also help place them in the time and location of where the incident went down, hence helping collect concrete evidence against the networks. One of the less unfortunate ways of helping has been dehorning the rhinos in a professional manner rather than a poacher dehorning them. While the conservationists are not really up for it, in a lot of regions it is no longer a choice, as Mike puts it “a dehorned rhino is better than a dead one”. The dehorning is done in a safe manner under professional supervision, where the horn is filed down just before the layer that would start bleeding and is done under sedation. It does take away the iconic look that rhinos have but it is still a solution to protect them. The jury is still out on how helpful it has really been, while poachers don’t see it as worth their time or loss of men to try and retrieve the little horn that is left, in some cases, the poachers didn’t care as they had already undergone a lot of effort and preparation and did not want to return home empty-handed. A unique and unconventional way that Global ConservationForce has adopted is by creating nervousness and mistrust in rhinos for humans. This is done early in their lives when they are calves, they are spooked and scared, so that after a point when they smell or hear anything that is remote to a human, their first response is not to listen but to run.

What can we do to help?

Khakhed has always been a big advocate of any person can help in any capacity. This was also confirmed by Mike- Anyone can make a massive impact.

Some ways that Mike has suggested have really got me thinking.

  1. No matter who you are or what your skill sets are, you can always be of help. Conservation does not only need conservationists, it also needs lawyers, businessmen, media professionals, influencers, social media buffs, etc. You don’t need to jump headfirst into conservation, or even have a degree in it to help, your unique set of skills already equip you to help.

  2. Educate yourself and those around you about the specifics of the species that interest you. You can be the spokesperson or the ambassador for your community for conservation. Once you have the right knowledge, you can position your skills better.

  3. Any amount of money that you spend, is a vote that you are casting. So buy ethically sourced groceries, clothing, make-up, etc. There are a lot of options out there to choose from, with all their varying costs and varieties. Be mindful of where you spend. For example, Fairtrade has been recognized by the whole conservation community to be ethical and reliable.

  4. Show your support by sharing, liking, commenting on various posts that are put up by conservation societies. You can even start following them on Instagram and bring them more exposure and each person’s support means a lot to the organization and keeps them motivated to do good.

  5. Know what can be recycled, repurposed, reused and what you don’t need. Don’t buy into the whole sham of consumerism. Be mindful of your surroundings and own what you need. For example, A family of 5 members, doesn't need 5 cars.

  6. You can even take this one step further and have a family when you feel you are ready. Overpopulation has been one of the major problems our ecology has to deal with due to limited resources. Start your family when you feel ready.

  7. Try to achieve net zero and help your government and policymakers in creating policies that are aimed at net zero.

  8. You can also visit Global Conservation Force and look out for various donation rallies and support us there.

With this, we come to an end of our interview about Insights of Rhino Conservation as well as what can you and I do to help with Rhino Conservation. I really hope, this article as well as the Global Conservation Force has been able to inspire you. Till we come back with a new article, stay green and stay healthy, and have a green day!


 

The source of the article: Micheal Veale

Micheal Veale is the founder and president of Global Conservation Force that started in 2014 when Mike realized there was a huge difference between local communities and

Mike Veale, Global Conservation Force- World Rhino Day
Mike Veale, Founder and President, GlobalConservation Force

conservational efforts. To rectify this he started creating programs that would leverage the knowledge from local communities and provide them the knowledge they need to be rangers. the Global conservation Force works on 5 levels, they provide something they call True Conservation: All their projects deal from educating and employing local communities to wildlife care, etc. The Global Conservation Force works in 16 to 18 countries in a year, some countries have a permanent set up while others do not. However, they believe in no squad left behind and always look after their brothers.


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