As I write this we are parked under a tree in Botswana looking out at a gentle flowing patch of golden grass blowing in a late wind and thinking that this pristine image would really pop if a mother and calf rhino walked into frame. Well, that is going to happen soon.
I also hear the words of a Bob Marley song in my head, one of the finest protest songs he wrote: "Get up, Stand up..." and I add some of my own bad lyrics to talk about rhinos and what will soon be a worldwide protest against the atrocities we are seeing committed to them. It seems inconceivable that a rhino gets slaughtered every 7 or 8 hours, that their horn now sells for a street value of $65,000 a kilogram in the East. What is immeasurably worse is that once the horn is poached, cut off, smuggled out, traded and re-traded, it is then mixed with cow hooves or buffalo horn and diluted to a fraction of its original form and even that original 'pure' form of rhino horn, does absolutely nothing at all! From ancient times, when symbols were magic and took on special meanings, a rhino horn was visually associated, like many similar phallic symbols, as a sign of sexual prowess, as if a horn (an attachment to the face meant for defending against a contestant for your territory), has anything at all to do with your endurance between the sheets. Either the buyers are completely stupid, or they are being sold a story that is as believable as a fairy tale, but either way, they are desperate for some kind of medical relief to their aliments. Killing rhinos for a flagging libido is a limp excuse, but other 'cures' have been invented by traders to boost the market. Now magically, rhino horn is supposed to cure asthma or cancer, but in reality the only thing that rhino horn cures is the middle man's chances of poverty.
World Rhino Day celebrates rhinos for what they are, as real, living animals that walk through the swaying grasslands, not this aberration of the human condition that hungers for immorality and ego. It celebrates that surveys show rhinos to be one of the top three species that visitors on safari now want to see; a testament to their rarity sadly, but also as a result of the media starting to sniff out a catastrophic event on the horizon for us all: the extinction of the rhino.
There is a tale of an Emperor who was conned into wearing no clothes by a sharp tailor. It is a story about a lie on a ridiculous scale, and rhino horn and its trade is a lie on an even bigger scale. So it is disturbing that the South African government has said that it is considering legalizing trade of rhino horn. Hidden in the policy is the silent wording that 'if stupid people from the East want to buy some ground up horn that has been proven to have no medicinal uses, then who are we to stand in the way of fool and his heisted money?" Well most of us like to go through life on the right side of the dividing line of integrity and goodness. Selling bogus rubbish to poor people who may be inspired to buy it, to save their dying child instead of seeking real help, is morally bankrupt. World Rhino Day should be about more than celebration; it should be about engaging and telling people everywhere that what we are doing to these species does not have to continue. It should be about delivering facts. Dispelling myths. Spreading rampant truth.
A sector of the community I have looked up to most of my life is the veterinarians. Today in South Africa, some of these custodians have been using a drug called M99 to sedate rhinos from helicopters, to chop off horns. The damage to the faces of some rhinos I've seen has been horrific. But the reason for the sedation is not to reduce the pain in an altruistic and kind pursuit, but so that the animal can recover and walk off before dying, kilometers from any tracks of the poachers, so that it is much more difficult for any anti-poaching teams to follow up.
We are at a tipping point and a turning point. This year marks the time when rhinos are breeding at a rate lower than the poaching rate. They are in increasing deficit. But the turning point is that there is a World Rhino Day, and that on this day the global public is starting to say, "Enough! Get up Stand up..."
We are doing the same. We have a campaign called Rhinos Without Borders to move rhinos to extremely well protected secret locations, to spread the risk. It's a global community project of hope; we've all doing something, together. I am hearing of others getting up and standing up as well, governments are gearing up anti-poaching forces, philanthropists are donating in large scales to this war for rhinos, and sentences for poaching in Kenya and Botswana are being increased and enforced. People are planning marches in the streets, we have friends running marathons in rhino suits, and others writing checks and asking for a rhino to be named after their grandchildren. There is a global outcry starting up, because rhinos do not belong to one state, but to all of us, everywhere. Today, we celebrate what we can do to make sure that they do not go extinct and we celebrate that human spirit that always ends up doing the right thing.
To find out more about how you can help rhinos, please visit here.