Rhinos, Poaching and Conservation
“How long will the land lie parched and the grass in every field be withered? Because those who live in it are wicked, the animals and birds have perished.” Jeremiah 12:4
Rhinos were close to extinction in the early 1990s. Two decades of painstaking conservation efforts succeeded in increasing the population of rhinos in Africa, from fewer than 2,500 in 1992, to over 24,000 by 2010.
Rhinos at Risk
Now a sharp increase in poaching of rhinos is threatening to reverse decades of conservation efforts and plunge rhinos back into decline and the threat of extinction. In the last three years over 800 rhino have been killed, most of those in South Africa.
The drastic surge in rhino poaching is being driven by an insane demand in Asia for rhino horn. In Vietnam and China, people are willing to pay thousands of dollars for just a sliver of rhino horn. Rhino horn is considered a miracle drug and an aphrodisiac. Although there is no scientific evidence to support this bizarre belief, rhino horn can fetch $22,000 per kilo on the black market. Rhino poaching is now a R150 billion industry annually.
Rhino poaching is now listed as the third most lucrative criminal trade in the world – behind drugs and human trafficking (slavery). Well-equipped, sophisticated organised crime syndicates, using helicopters and automatic weapons, are ruthlessly targeting rhinos throughout Southern Africa.
War on Wildlife
As South Africa is home to most of the world’s rhino population, this war against organised crime is mostly being fought in our game parks. Of the 20,000 white rhino in the world, 19,000 are in South Africa, 12,000 of those are in Kruger National Park. In 2010, Kruger National Park lost 146 of its rhino to poachers and far more in 2011. As Kruger National Park has a 186 mile open border with Mozambique, it is particularly vulnerable to poachers. South Africa is home to 1,600 black rhino. The white rhino gets its name from a mispronunciation for “wide” as a description of their lip. White rhino weigh as much as 3 tonnes. Black rhino weigh up to 1.5 tonnes.
In 2011, 448 rhino were killed for their horn, 333 of those were in South Africa. Rhino poaching has increased 400% in the last 10 years. The Wildlife Conservation Trust points out that high level corruption is involved in this destructive traffic. By way of example they point out how a professional hunter, arrested in 2010 for poaching and trading in rhino horn, has since been issued 12 new rhino hunting licences! All this despite being out of jail, on R1 million bail!
Stewardship Over Creation
In the first chapter of the Bible, God made mankind responsible for His animals (Genesis 1:28). All animals are God’s animals (Psalm 50:10). We are answerable to God for our treatment, care and protection of them. “For we must all appear before the Judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” 2 Corinthians 5:10
How Are We to Treat Animals?
“A good man is kind to his animals, but the wicked are cruel to theirs.” Proverbs 12:10
Matthew Henry’s commentary on Proverbs 12:10: “He regards even the life of his beast, not only because it is his servant, but because it is God’s creature, and in conformity to providence, which preserves man and beast (Psalm 36:6). The animals that are under our care must be provided for, must have convenient food and rest, and must in no case be abused or tyrannised over. Balaam was checked for beating his donkey. The Lord took care of oxen. Those therefore are unrighteous men that are not just to the brute creatures. Those who are furious and barbarous to them evidence and confirm in themselves a habit of barbarity, and make the creation groan.”
Save the Rhino
Conservationists recommend that to save the rhino and win this war against organised crime, there needs to be far greater co-operation between wildlife organisations, police, prosecutors, magistrates and judges. New technologies need to be developed to detect and intercept rhino poachers and horn traffickers, including DNA fingerprinting of rhino horn, tracking devices, improved conviction rates, increased severe penalties for rhino related poaching crimes, and no bail for rhino poachers.
Mobilise Against Poachers
In addition, I would recommend that as this is a war against organised crime, the military be brought in. The Air Force should assign aircraft to assist Wildlife Protection Services to intercept helicopters used by poachers. The Parabats should be assigned to hunt down poachers in the game reserves. The Reconnaissance Commando should be tasked to track down and deal with the organised crime syndicates behind the poachers. As with piracy, history proves that when dealing with violent and ruthless criminals only the most decisive and sustained action can prevail.
Duty and Delight
In the light of the clear teaching of Scripture concerning Creation, and mankind’s responsibility for it, we should treat animals with the love and concern of those who must give an account of our conduct to God. We must recognise that the welfare and protection of animals is an essential part of our Christian responsibility. We must do all that we can to secure the well-being of all animals who, with ourselves, inhabit the earth and so fulfil the creative joy and purposes of Almighty God.
Dr. Peter Hammond