With two rhinos recently found slaughtered at the hands of poachers on the same day, GCC’s Anton Mzimba explains the multifaceted situation that is exacerbating the safety of this endangered species.
Anton Mzimba is Head of Ranger Services at the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve and an essential member of the GCC team. With his eyes on the land, its animals, and the people living in the communities around the park, he has a unique understanding of the current situation and all of its challenges.
Eleven rhinos have been slaughtered in the last three weeks, a death rate that vastly exceeds the current birth rate and will ultimately see the extinction of these animals if things don’t change. But the problem runs deeper than most people realize, as Mzimba explains: “The origin of the problem is similar across many parts of Africa. People were displaced from their land when the protected areas were formed, forced to settle on the outskirts of the protected areas.
“They lost their grazing fields, they could no longer access natural resources such as firewood woodland areas to collect firewood, and they were deprived of or water sources that were essential during periods of drought. They were not happy. The situation was made worse by the fact that if they want to access the protected areas, they have to pay, and also wildlife from the park frequently eat their crops and kill their livestock, further fueling anger.”
The local people also see foreign tourists coming to enjoy the protected areas, while the communities are not even allowed to benefit from the game meat to eat. When they do illegally hunt and bring meat back, they are regarded as heroes in the communities.
“The people are not benefitting in any form,” notes Mzimba. “We need to find a way of sharing natural resources. For example, it could be firewood, sharing game meat during the culling of surplus game in the protected area, sharing a harvest. If we want to control the situation, we need to share resources with local communities.
“Rangers are armed and equipped with modern technology gargets, but they are not winning the fight. The only solution is to sit down and draw up map out a memorandum of understanding or an agreement. We need to give people ownership rights to of the land and share resources in a fair way. When there are new developments for tourism, the people need to be able to have their say and be heard.”
The rhinos are one of the most emblematic endangered animals, but they are far from alone. Rhino horns catch media attention as they are a multi-million-dollar business on the black market, but the trade of animals does not stop there – ivory, bones from lions and leopards, pangolin scales, and more are also highly valuable commodities. “If these animals disappear, it will have a negative effect on the local communities,” notes Mzimba. “Without the animals, jobs will disappear, especially for the young people, but ultimately it will affect everyone and everything in a negative way.”
The situation has worsened with the pandemic as people are struggling to put food on the table. Unemployment and poverty are fueling the poaching situation and many people don’t see any other way out. So when the poachers approach people in the communities to assist them in navigating the land, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to decline.
Luckily, organizations like GCC are working on several different fronts to address these issues. From the Future Rangers educational curriculum and app to the Field Rangers Food Appeal, from the Careers in Conservation television series to the full-length documentary Rhino Man, every program, every initiative, every dollar, every good dead is buying time, but will it be enough?