Friday, April 3, 2015

Countdown to another dead Rhino, 8....7....6....

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Did you know that while you're going about your 8 hour work day, somewhere in the wilds of Africa, another Rhino is being killed and viciously mutilated? Or that someone in China is stirring rhino horn powder into a drink, while others look on in admiration and envy?

I didn't...until now!

In my ongoing evolution as a writer and a quest for more experience, I volunteer at a few nonprofits to help with their communication needs. I recently connected with and did a little work for a nonprofit called Nikela, a completely volunteer run public charity that is an incredible example of how people with passion and belief in a cause but limited funds can still make an impact in the world. Started in 2010 by Margrit & Russ Harris, driven by a desire to support the extraordinary people trying to preserve African wildlife, Nikela helps by 
“telling stories, raising some funds and doing what we can to support those who give their all to stop the rhino poaching, curb the escalating wildlife trafficking industry and end canned lion hunting”
My first assignment with this unique organization was to write a blog post about one of the Ebooks that Nikela publishes to raise awareness about wildlife conservation.  I went into it concerned about the technical aspects of how I was going to write this piece - absorbing all the information, summarizing and then highlighting the most compelling parts of it, but one minute into my first reading of it and I was hooked! The new challenge? - how to do justice to an incredible story of heartbreak, hope and commitment to a seemingly unwinnable fight.

The eBook -Wildlife Ranger, Volume 1 is the first in a series that chronicles the dramatic, compelling, and gut wrenching experiences of Peter Milton, a wildlife ranger in Northern Mozambique, on his quest to save the Rhino from poachers and crime syndicates.

The stories in this first volume cover a gamut of experiences of Peter and the team at SPOTS (Strategic Protection of Threatened Species), from using stealth teams and customized high tech UAV's to hunt down poachers (007 would not feel out of place in this scenario, BTW), to losing their base of operations to a mercenary local farmer and bonding with a young rhino bull in their new home base. There are also beautiful moments when the team pauses to appreciate and surround themselves with the natural beauty and indigenous flora and fauna. 

While being absorbed and entertained by the tales of this dedicated group, it's easy to forget the dangers inherent in this work and the heartbreak that comes with failure. The book delivered on its goal however, making me pause to research all the issues surrounding Rhino poaching and conservation efforts.

Here's a summary - Rhino poaching is driven by a market for their horns, south east Asia being the primary destination. While in many cultures the powdered horn is considered to have medicinal properties, in more and more areas, consuming rhino horn powder in drinks is considered a status symbol. To feed this seemingly unstoppable demand, in just the first 2 months of this year, in South Africa alone, 49 rhinos have been poached and a total of 1215 rhinos killed in 2014, that was one every 7.2 hours

To put this in greater context, at the beginning of the 20th century there were 500,000 rhinos across Africa and Asia. This fell to 70,000 by 1970 and further to just 29,000 in the wild today. Large-scale poaching of the now critically endangered black rhino resulted in a incredible 96% decline from 65,000 individuals in 1970 to just 2,300 in 1993. It is in large part due to the dedicated efforts of conservationists like Peter Milton and local programs across Africa that some of these numbers have stabilized and even grown.  However, the ever increasing rate of poaching is winning right now, and makes the threat of Rhino extinction in the very near future dangerously and devastatingly likely. 

You may say, why the Rhino? I say because they are unique, gentle herbivores that have as much  right to this planet as we do. Because too few seem to care about their place in preserving the indigenous ecosystem. That the rhino is one of many other endangered species, whose potential extinction brings us further down the road to our own destruction. And if the rhino doesn't touch your heart, choose another... There are so many species on the endangered species list (way too many if you ask me) and while it can seem overwhelming to try and save them all, its easy to pick one, any one that speaks to you and start there.

Here are some resources if you'd like to help -
  1. Read the ebook that triggered this post - Wildlife Ranger, Volume 1 (opens as a .pdf)
  2. Donate or volunteer with Nikela, or read other ebooks -  http://www.nikela.org/donate/
  3.  Find other causes that you would like to support -  World Widlife Fund is still the best single source - https://www.worldwildlife.org/species
  4. If you'd like to volunteer your time to one of these causes (from any part of the world) http://www.volunteermatch.org/

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