South Africa, Swaziland and CITES: lifting the ban on illegal trade

The recent decision by Zuma’s South African government not to push for an internationally sanctioned market is, at best, controversial. Many conservationists, animal rights campaigners, and casual observers will agree that this decision is the right one to save the species; however, this opinion is, for the most part, fuelled by ignorance and misunderstanding. Maintaining the ban could spell death for South Africa’s rapidly declining rhino population, playing straight into the hands of the poaching syndicates who are sending them to extinction. While it may seem counterintuitive to lift a ban on rhino horn, it is actually considered by some to be one of the fastest, most effective ways to ensure rhinos are protected and valued.
As the current situation stands, rhino numbers are dropping rapidly, with over a thousand individuals killed by poachers alone each year. Private rhino owners, who own 20-25% of South Africa’s rhino population, are bleeding money – all funding goes towards protecting their animals; expenses range from vet bills to anti-poaching units to reserve maintenance. Those who wish to dehorn their rhinos need to consider the extra costs of hiring professionals to tranquilise the animals and monitor them as they go under, and of storing the horn once it is removed. Dehorning is an effective practice to protect the rhino, and is mostly harmless; however, it can be expensive and while the ban still stands, it is not a worthwhile investment for many owners. Those who do make this decision will end up with a stockpile of horn, worth thousands or millions of pounds, with which they can do nothing but wait.
This decision by the South African government forces rhino owners to pour more and more money into protecting animals which are, ultimately, economically worthless. Without legal trade on horns, rhinos have little to no economic value to business owners, who would rather invest money in more lucrative areas. To keep the ban in place is to ensure no worth is placed on the life of a rhino; if trade was legalised, rhinos could be farmed as a renewable source of keratin, giving them economic value.
Swaziland, on the other hand, have recently announced their intentions to propose a lift on the international trade of rhino horn. Here are LRRF, we fully support their movement, and pray they are successful. If they do achieve even a temporary lift on the international ban, it could open the door to other countries, such as South Africa and Namibia, rethinking their stances. Even if not, having just one country globally trading in rhino horn could provide much-needed data on the economics of it; since the ban has been in place since the ‘70s, there is very little data around to build an economic model on which countries can make informed decisions. Swaziland might provide a model for future trade policies – we can only hope for a positive outcome.
Until the international trade is legalised, private rhino owners and national reserves will continue to struggle alone against organised, well-funded global smuggling syndicates. Our rhinos will continue to be slaughtered and money will continue to be wasted on ineffective anti-poaching techniques. Rhino owners are running out of time and money, and lifting the ban is one of the only courses of action left. The ban hasn’t prevented the extinction of these animals yet; why should it do so in the future? It’s time to try something new.


Sweet Chilli's Story

Sweet Chilli is a 5 year old rhino who lives in South Africa. His life had a normal beginning; stayed with his mother in his first few years before joining up with two other young bulls. Unfortunately, this did not last, and everything changed for him.
His mother, Cheeky Cow, died on 10th October 2014, when she was brutally murdered by poachers. These poachers broke onto the reserve in the night. She was shot and her spine was slashed; then her horn was ruthlessly hacked off her face while she was still alive. Her baby, Charlie, who was roughly 6 months old at the time, ran away from her dying mother and was left motherless at a crucial age. Winnie, a pregnant female, was also killed in the poaching incident. After being shot, Winnie ran for hours, terrified, until eventually collapsing. The poachers never got to her, and so she died with her horn; but it was too late to save her and her unborn baby.
Following Cheeky Cow's death, Sweet Chilli adopted his younger sister, Charlie, and looked after her. At first Charlie was nudging Chilli for milk, which was heart-breaking to see, but Chilli looked out for Charlie and the two of them had a wonderful bond.

Following the poaching, the reserve decided to de-horn their rhino to make them less vulnerable to poaching. Patrol, the dominant male on the reserve was around 30 years old, and so they knew the anaesthetic was a risk. However, had they not gone ahead with the de-horning, Patrol was sure to be poached and so it was a risk worth taking. Sadly, Patrol never did wake up from the anaesthetic.
This loss was heart breaking as he had been dominant for so many years, and was quite the character. However hard it was for everyone, it is much better that Patrol died peacefully rather than being brutally poached and dying a painful and unjust death. Patrol will always be remembered as the heart of the reserve.
Charlie was too young to be de-horned; but the team's biggest fear was splitting her and Chilli up. While Chilli was being de-horned, Charlie remained close to him despite her fear, but was kept at a safe distance by vehicles. Unfortunately when Chilli woke up, the both ran in opposite directions. For days, they were split, and Charlie could not be found.
Eventually she was found, alone and scared, but they were united soon. It was a traumatic few days for everyone, but once they were back together, everyone could relax slightly, knowing Chilli would continue to look after Charlie as best he could, which he did for several months.

In late July 2015, Magoo, who became the dominant bull following Patrol's death, attacked young Charlie (aged 18 months). He threw her several metres in the air. For the next few days Magoo, along with two other bulls Luke and Dougie, continued to attack Charlie, and Chilli when he stepped into defend her. It was unclear to all as to why this was happening. Furthermore, Charlie was looking very small for her age and underweight, which was causing worry.
It was decided that Chilli and Charlie should be moved into a boma, away from Magoo. We were all in South Africa at this time so could help out. A boma was built within 3 days thanks to a dedicated team of people. who were an honour to work alongside. Chilli and Charlie were darted and transferred into the boma.

Tragically, Charlie passed away on 3rd August 2015. This came as heart breaking news to all, and she will always be remembered for her courage after everything she went through. Her footsteps may be gone, but she's alive in memory.
After her death it was made clear that Charlie had died due to being malnourished as she did not have the access to her mother's milk for long enough. This is why she was attacked; the other rhinos knew she was weak and, in nature, survival of the fittest is how things work. Only the strongest genes are wanted for reproduction and they knew she was not strong enough. This was not clear to us at all at the time, but she was not attacked out of anger, fun or ignorance from the other animals. They knew she wouldn't survive and so wanted to kill her first.
Most of all, Charlie's death was heart breaking for Sweet Chilli. He was her older brother, who had cared for her for more than half of her life. They had a beautiful bond, and he had helped keep her alive for as long as he could. Initially, Chilli refused to leave her body, and when the boma was opened he did not leave. After his release, he was not seen for several days. Eventually we spotted him alone standing in a bush.
After some time, he joined up with Kelly, and her baby Mac. He's doing well, and has now joined up with Jodi and Reine and is seeming happy, which is lovely to see after everything he's been through.

Therefore, ONE poaching incident led to the death of 5 rhinos; Cheeky Cow, Winnie, her unborn baby, Patrol and Charlie. That one incident has also prevented the life of many more rhinos in terms of breeding prospects.
Sweet Chilli's story shows the beautiful nature of these animals; they're not emotionless or numb. They build strong relationships, are very social and they look out for one another. Sweet Chilli is a hero.

Let Rhinos Roam Free wants to help these animals any way we can to keep them safe and healthy. Money we raised in the past helped in funding an anti-poaching unit for a few months. They're incredible animals and we want to help protect them, and give them the chance they deserve, to prevent the extinction they're facing.

 Sweet Chilli and Charlie
Sweet Chilli with Luke and Dougie

Photos by Kate Sheridan

Why we support Lifting the Ban on Rhino Horn Trade

I'm sure many people will read the title of this post and think we are crazy. Why would a rhino charity want rhino horn to be sold legally? Well hopefully we can convince you. 

The market for rhino horn is complex. The biggest market is for traditional medicine in China and Vietnam, for fevers, seizures and recently as a cancer cure due to a myth that top officials were cured. Status is another reason people buy rhino horn; to show they can afford it. 

So rhino horn is believed to be a natural and magical cure for all kinds of illnesses, to the point where people will pay £40,000/kg for it. However, we know rhino horn is made up mostly from Keratin - the same as our hair and nails - and possesses no medicinal value. So the solution to the rhino crisis seems obvious: education! End the demand and you end the supply; when the buying stops the killing will too. 

This of course, is true. However, as stated in our first post, the belief that rhino horn saves lives dates back so far that reversing it would be nearly impossible. Even if it was possible, it would take too long, and time is something the rhinos do not have. 

Even if 99% of Chinese and Vietnamese people stopped buying rhino horn, the remaining 1% would be enough people to lead to the extinction of rhinos within 10 years

Therefore, another solution is needed. We are not saying that promoting the truth about rhino horn should stop, because the more people know about how useless it is medically, the better. However, in order to prevent extinction, something else is necessary too. 

A rhino after de-horning 
Many private rhino owners have had to de-horn their rhinos to make them less vulnerable and desirable to poachers. This is a surprisingly easy, although expensive, process. The rhino is darted by a trained veterinarian, who then monitors their breathing and general well-being and keeps them cool. The removal takes roughly 15-20 minutes. When the rhino wakes up, he/she can return to their herd. 

These de-hornings mean there are stockpiles of rhino horn (being kept safe) that have been sustainably harvested. Rhinos can survive without their horns, as they are predominantly used for protection. Rhinos who have been dehorned are still breeding well and thriving without them. As the photos in this post show, they don't look nearly as different as you would expect, and remain calm in their natural environment. As long as the horns are safety removed by a vet, the rhinos will be fine. The reason they die when poached is due to the brutality of the way the horns are removed. 

If rhino horn trade was legalised, the existing horns that have been removed can be sold, and the money can be used for conservation and protecting these animals. Furthermore, lifting the ban adds economic value to the animals. 

As stated in a previous post, we live in an economic world. In order to really protect these animals, you have to give them an economic value. Legalising the trade would mean rhinos would have to be protected in order to supply the market. Breeding programmes would be flooded with funding, and rhinos are suddenly "worth" protecting. 

We'd like to take this time to say that this is not how we believe the world should be. We see the value in rhinos beyond economics. We know these animals are beautiful and unique, and should be saved purely for that. Unfortunately, not everyone thinks like this; and this is where conservationists come into it. 

Legalising the international trade of rhino horn takes the pressure of the animals and reduces the likelihood of poaching. If you can legally buy rhino horn, the need for the black market diminishes. In order for this to work, South Africa would need to partner up with China, and allow the Chinese government to make a profit from the income, to keep them on side and away from the illegal market. 

South Africa would also need a monopoly on trade so the price remains high, and the amount of horn available is controlled. If the supply is high, the price will drop and the demand could reach unsustainable levels. The price needs to be controlled so that it is low enough to beat the black market, but high enough to keep the demand sustainable. The issue here is South Africa does not have a monopoly of supply, because there are 5 species of rhino living in Asian countries and elsewhere in Africa; but South Africa does have the most of any country. 

South Africa has until 27th April 2016 to propose lifting the ban to CITES (Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). If South Africa does this, to make it legal 2/3rd of voting countries will have to agree. 

This is why education on this topic is crucial. For these countries to vote yes to lifting the ban, they need to know why it's a good idea and how it can help save the rhino. 

We know it's controversial, and potentially more radical than other solutions, but time is not on our side. Something needs to change soon, and the people promoting this are the private owners: the people who work everyday to save these animals; and they know what they're talking about. We will be following this story in the lead up to 27th April. 


Why there is a case for Commercial Hunting

After the release of Prince William's interview regarding Africa and its conservation efforts, rhino protection and views on commercialised hunting we have seen many people, including some of our peers, hit back in shock. 

Prince William (source: daily mail)
This is because Prince William openly admitted that there is a place for commercialised hunting in Africa, and other places around the world. Before our visit to South Africa last summer, where we had the privilege of living and working on a game reserve for a month, where all the staff put all their efforts into saving their rhinos, we too would have been shocked by the Prince's view. 

However, one of the things we learnt whilst working there was that actually, commercial hunting does do a lot for the preservation of conservation efforts. Now when saying this, the commercial hunting, which should be supported, is not the hunting of rhinos, elephants and other endangered animals. Nor the killing of lions - Cecil's very public case is, and always will be unacceptable. However, some reserves do allow people to pay to shoot antelope, for example. Now, these aren't just any old antelope they choose - they are usually injured, infertile or for whatever reason, are probably likely to die soon of natural causes. 

The money that is profited from the killing of the animal in question is then used to help preserve other animals in the reserve. Therefore, should we really complain if a rich man or woman wishes to spend £200 (or whatever the price is) to shoot an animal which is not endangered if in the long run, it will save many others. We live in an economic world; commercial hunting is not the ideal way to raise money for conservation. However it is a successful one. We do not believe trophy hunters are conservationists, but the people they are paying are. 

We would never kill or commercially hunt an animal; injured or not. But we are in no position to judge reserves' who provide this service as in the long run, we can assure you they do far more to save the animals than people who sit on a computer, or with a paper, outraged by this commercial hunting. 

Remember before speaking, walk in their footsteps and it is very different to poaching - one clean shot, rather than a gruesome painful death. 

Meet the Team

This post is just here to introduce us all, who we are, and what we are all doing currently in the UK. 

We all met out in South Africa, volunteering together. Kate, Anna A, Hobbs and Freya met in 2014, and Anna S (sister to Kate) joined in 2015. 


Kate Sheridan

Kate is studying for an undergraduate degree in Geography (Bsc) and is in her first year. 

Anna A

Anna Ashdown 

Anna is currently taking a gap year, and then intends to study for her undergraduate degree in wildlife conservation.


Isabella Hobbs 

Hobbs is in her first year of university, studying drama. 

Anna S

Anna Sheridan 

Anna is in her third year of a sociology undergraduate degree.


Freya Nye 

Freya is also in her first year of undergraduate study in neuroscience. 

Our other main contributors include Albert Ray, Jamie Bird and Tish Hedges; fellow members of our volunteering team. 

We all are extremely passionate about anti-rhino poaching. While in South Africa, we took part in rhino monitoring, both day and night. We got a glimpse of what it is like to care for these animals, but this was only a glimpse. 
It's impossible to fully understand what the people who care 24/7 for the rhinos go through. However, we are full of admiration for them, and want to do whatever we can to help make their lives easier, and protect the rhinos. 

Welcome :)

Welcome to LRRFs blog!

We thought making a blog would be a good idea to post our thoughts, and keep people up to date with us, as well as continuing to spread our message.

Let Rhinos Roam Free is a student-run organisation dedicating to saving South Africa’s last remaining rhinos. It was founded in 2014 by 3 students from the UK, and now are a much bigger team of all students. We founded it after meeting in South Africa volunteering together on a privately owned reserve that keeps white rhinos.

Left to right: Hobbs, Kate, Anna A
While we were in South Africa we learnt about the rhino crisis and the shocking extent of it. Rhinos are poached for their horns, which are now gram-for-gram worth more than gold. This is to supply the massive Asian market, where people believe the horn has healing powers; anything from a headache to cancer.

This of course,  is not medically correct. Rhino Horn is made of Keratin; the same material as our hair and nails. It possesses no healing powers whatsoever. However these beliefs date back so far (longer than Christianity) that changing them would be nearly impossible.

LRRFs is a small operation, but every little helps when it comes to saving Africa’s rhinos, and we intend to do just that, working with extremely passionate people on the ground everyday, 24 hours a day to protect these animals.

While in the UK we obviously can’t be in the field. Nevertheless we do our best to help by increasing people’s awareness and fundraising to send money out to where the rhinos are.

Anyone reading our blog and supporting us is hugely appreciated! We hope you can see how amazing these animals are and why they need to be saved.

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