In case anyone is asking why, it’s because these graceful herbivorous mammals’ horns are believed to have a
status-boosting factor as well as healing properties, when they pack precisely the same amount of keratin — for they
are composed of the same substance — as a person’s toenails.
Attempting to make this reality more widely known, in order to suppress demand, would be a very steep mountain to
climb. “When you’ve got leaders of the free world saying that climate change isn’t a problem, how are you going to
change the mindset of the whole of Chinese medicine and mythology?” says Pietersen, who is working with teams of
specialists to relocate and care for abandoned, injured or orphaned baby rhinos in places such as South Africa’s
Kruger National Park, where the majority of poaching incidents take place. “The only thing we can do is protect the
animals and empower the people who live around the [problem], to make them know that by protecting the animals
they’re basically providing for themselves, their families and for future generations.”
The ruthless side of economics is exacerbating the issue, Pietersen says: “Because the numbers are going down, people
are stockpiling. They know that… if we don’t get this sorted by around 2025, the rhino will be gone, which means the
rhino horn they have is more valuable. When they’re gone, the value will obviously increase. Even now it’s fetching
around $60,000 to $80,000 a kilogram on the black market.”
Indeed, it’s all about money — and it’s an issue that money can do much to alleviate, too. “When I was shooting the
documentary, one of the locals said to me, ‘We don’t understand why you rich white people come to take photos of our
food’,” Pietersen says. “That struck a chord in me — all these guys want is water and food to live a happy life.
Now, if money was no object and we were able to build schools, give them running water, educate them, empower them
to make sustainable arrangements bordering the Kruger park, we could also engage with them and say, ‘Listen, these
animals here are raising significant amounts of local funds — you need to protect them both for you and for future
generations. The human fence is something that is desperately needed around the Kruger park.”
Meanwhile, literal fences — like the highly sophisticated electric one protecting the Sabi Sands reserve, adjacent to
Kruger National Park, which is peopled by security staff and has thermal imaging cameras and sniffer dogs — could
also be erected with the help of hard cash. Pietersen also points out that helicopter support with infrared
technology for night patrols would be beneficial.
Read the full story in Issue 68 of The Rake - on newsstands 6th February. Subscribe here.