An armed anti-poaching unit out on patrol in the Borana wildlife sanctuary. Photo: Michael Dyer / SCMP

By Kylie Knott
28 March 2015

(SCMP) – Michael Dyer looks a little awkward in a suit and tie. And no wonder. His usual garb is a safari suit, and his natural environment is the African bush where he runs Borana, an eco-resort and wildlife sanctuary located 200km north of Kenya's capital, Nairobi.

But Dyer, 53, has put on his suit for a good cause: saving the endangered rhinoceros.

Borana has been in his family for three generations. Although originally a conventional cattle ranch, it has evolved into a wildlife conservancy with a luxury eco-lodge under his management. And since last year, when Borana and Lewa, a neighbouring family-run conservancy that is also a Unesco World Heritage site, took down the fences between their properties to create Africa's largest rhino sanctuary, Dyer has found himself at the heart of its conservation battle.

In Hong Kong earlier this month to spread the word about rhino conservation, he had a grim message. The illegal wildlife trade has decimated populations in the wild in Africa. Just as elephants are hunted for their tusks, rhinos are being killed for their horns, which are mainly used in Asian folk medicine.

Years of poaching have reduced the numbers of the two African species - the white rhino and the black, or hook-lipped, rhino - to just an estimated 25,000 animals, driving them to the brink of extinction. The black rhino is particularly vulnerable: in the 1970s there were 70,000 black rhinos in Africa; today there are only about 3,000.

Poaching has reached "catastrophic levels", Dyer says, and the battle to save the rhinos will be lost unless there's a huge shift in the supply and demand.

(In 2011, WWF attributed a spike in poaching in Africa and South Asia primarily to increased demand for rhino horn in traditional medicine in Vietnam, where many believe powdered horn can cure cancer. Horns are also sent to the Middle East, where they are used to make handles for ornamental daggers.)

As Dyer sees it, the most effective way to disrupt that market is through education.

"The physical anti-poaching war on the ground is a war that can't be won; there's just too much money, too many guns and too many people who don't care enough," he says. "The war will be won in the marketplace, with cultural shifts so that the commodities from rhino horn are no longer desirable, are of little value and are therefore not worth a poacher risking his life for. When this happens, we will save the rhino, and it starts with education.

"Rhino horn is sold in Vietnam and China, and to a lesser extent Laos, as traditional medicine. Despite scientifically proven to have no medicinal properties whatsoever, [rhino horn is composed of keratin, the same substance in our hair and fingernails], it's in high demand, especially with the wealthy elite - perhaps as much as a status symbol as the aphrodisiac or cure for cancer that it is purported to be." […]

But with the price of rhino horn almost rivalling that for gold at about US$65,000 per kilogram, Dyer says poachers are more motivated than ever, using high-calibre assault weapons and sophisticated night-vision equipment to hunt their prey.

"It has become a war, one we fight 24 hours a day. Sadly, it is a war that's being lost," he says. […]

But despite the small success stories in Laikipia, Dyer paints a bleak picture.

"In South Africa, 650 rhinos have been slaughtered this year alone. In proportion to its population, Kenya has lost even more," he says. "The situation is even more dire for elephants, with some estimates suggesting that 100 a day are being killed across Africa." [more]

China main reason Africa is losing war to stop wipe-out of rhinos and elephants



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