Views: Saving The White Rhinos Of South Africa

Poachers kill at least one rhino a day in South Africa. Their horns are in huge demand on the black market, and are worth more than gold. Anti-poaching squads are now increasingly better equipped: with night-vision equipment, drones and thermal imaging cameras.

Covering some 20,000 km2, Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa. It’s home to the biggest population of white rhinos in South Africa – and also the highest number of rhinos killed by poachers. One major problem for ranger teams is their small size in comparison to the vast area of territory involved. Another is the widespread poverty in the many villagers bordering the park – and it’s here that you ultimately have to begin if you want to win the battle to save the rhinos.

Vince Barkas has 30 years’ experience working in wildlife conservation, and little confidence in the current system’s effectiveness in protecting rhinos. In 1992 he founded the anti-poaching unit “Protrack”. Its teams operate in the Greater Kruger, which includes private wildlife reserves neighboring the national park.

Over the decades he says he’s seen no change, despite rangers being better armed and equipped, and wants to see new options: “We’ve shot poachers, arrested poachers, beaten up poachers. Everything. But we’ve never sat down and spoken.” Vince Barkas believes in the power of dialog rather than violence. He and his son Dylan made their way to Mozambique – where many of the poachers who kill rhinos in the Kruger National Park hail from.

Their journey takes them to the town of Massingir, where Barkas Snr. first began talking to poachers a number of years ago. The problem, he says, is rooted in the very concept of wildlife conservation: “We’ve made wildlife a rich white man’s thing – where white people hunt and benefit from it, and go to lodges etc. And we’ve kept black people out of it – behind a fence. We’ve got to change that approach.”

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