Hopefully you have enjoyed the first two instalments of our animal love series. If you haven't explored them yet, please do so by visiting:
In part 1 we focused on the unethical Lion Park. Since then, we have paid visits to several semi-natural sites where animals are kept in enclosures, isolated from others. We have been lucky enough to find most of these animals have been rescued from less desirable alternatives.
We came across one beautiful Bengal tiger who had been rescued from an Asian tiger bone farm. Powdered tiger bone is believed, in parts of Asia, to be an aphrodisiac.
Bengal tigers are indigenous to India but the demand is from different Asian locations. This opens the door for us to discuss something larger...
There is a law against the exchange of endangered animal parts which encompasses most of the world. Sadly these laws have not made it to several parts of Asia, resulting in demand for the body parts of very rare animals being focused in these areas.
So let's take Vietnam - the largest demand for Rhino horn and tiger bone in the world is based there. With no Rhinos living in the Vietnamese wild, these animals must be slaughtered overseas, usually where the international law against endangered species trade do exists.
Enter: The Poacher.
Crawling through the bush in camouflage, he must escape the keen eyes of park rangers in national parks across South Africa. He must also avoid the predators of the bush finding him first.
This is how we imagine the poacher. It is almost accurate but there are two things you may not know:
A large portion of the poaching that goes on in Africa is an 'inside job'. Park rangers and employees at lodges and venues inside the national parks will try to make 'a fast buck' by poaching from the land they know better than anyone else.
If a poacher comes from outside the park, they will usually pay to trophy hunt 'legally' and stay in the game reserves at provided accommodation to secretly conduct their research. Then after compiling the information they return to take the lives of innocent species, illegally.
Both of these factors make it incredibly difficult to monitor. Staff are all subject to background checks and thorough monitoring during their time working there but visitors are not under such a strict watch. Across South Africa and Swaziland we visited over 10 different game reserves and we did not once have our bags searched. We would comment on how easy it would be to turn up at the gate, pay your entry fee, do a self drive where no rangers are in sight and then poach to your hearts (mal)content.
Rhino populations are slowly decreasing all over the world. The Black Rhino numbers just over 2000 and the White Rhino is also critically endangered. The reason for this: Rhino horn is another supposed aphrodisiac.
We would like to make 2 things very clear at this point...
There is no evidence (we mean NOTHING) to prove that either tiger bone or Rhino horn or any other endangered animal body part offers any strong medicinal benefit.
Rhino horn is made of keratin. This is the same as your finger nails or hair. So to be clear, biting your finger nails does exactly the same thing to you on a chemical level as ingesting rhino horn.
So with this in mind, think back to Part 2 of our Animal Love series...
The 3 Cheetahs and 3 elephants at Inkwenkwezi all had something in common. They were all forced into human hands during their childhood.
Why? Because their parents were killed by poachers. In these cases, it may not have been for medicine, but the effects remain the same.
The poaching problem is approaching a point of no return. With numbers of critically endangered species dangerously close to extinction, something has to be done.
Many people blame the poachers for this position, but in reality, they are businessmen; satisfying demand and taking advantage of scarcity. Albeit in the most unethical and twisted way.
But if they are not to blame then who is?
The market. The demand. Vietnam?! Anywhere where these international laws against endangered species trade do not exist, there is demand. This drives people who are struggling for money or food to go and fund their lives for an incredibly long time by shooting an animal and selling it.
So what can you do...
1. Raise Awareness
Please share this blog, make it viral, help people realise the problems with poaching. Let everyone know what they can do to make a change.
3. Most importantly - go on safari, pay for the experience.
Your money will go a long way. If the demand to see these animals alive is greater and more valuable than their body parts post-mortem, then businessmen will supply to a more profitable market.
There is no other way. Sadly the trust in ancient oriental medicines drives people to commit acts of insanity. This does not look like something that will soon change. Connecting wealthy asian demand to the unknown poacher, who's life is less valuable than the animal he is hunting seems near impossible.
The best YOU can do is support the viable alternative.