12 July 2017

Zimbabwe: Biggest Rhino Breeder Offers Free Training

Against a background where Africa's rhino population is on the brink of extinction, the South Africa-based world's biggest rhino breeder has given a unique and free offer to train rural African communities to breed the white rhino. This has never been done before.

"The white rhino can easily be bred like cattle as I am currently doing on ranch," said the South Africa North West Province-based world's biggest rhino breeder Mr John Hume who started farming at the age of 14 and has a total of 1 500 white rhino (bigger than Kenya's total rhino population) on his 8 000 -hectare ranch.

"In order to save the white rhino from extinction, I am offering all Southern African governments to send representatives of rural communities to come and train for free on how to breed rhino on my ranch but they would have to pay for their food and accommodation."

He said that the African governments could give the very same rhinos that are being poached daily to rural communities neighbouring national parks and game reserves to breed and also benefit from them.

"If a community is not going to benefit from the sale of the rhino horn, they would be the first ones to poach the rhino and sale the horn on black market," said Mr Hume.

"So rhino conservation could never work until the communities can sell their rhino horn just like the communities in South America are now selling their vecuna that has a similar history to the CITES rhino horn international ban but it is now being traded.

"The vecuna population has since increased from 5 000 about 40 years ago to a total population of 450 000 now because people see the incentive to conserve the vecuna that they are benefiting from through trade, through the sustainable shear its fur and not shooting it for its skin and fur as happened in the past. "This is exactly what we are saying the rhino horn should be harvested and traded without killing the rhino for it horn."

He said this is why we would like African rural communities to start breeding the rhino whose horn re-grows to one-kilogram annually that they can then harvest by cutting it off and sell it and use the money to save the rhino and also improve their welfare by building their own schools and hospitals. "It is absolute madness that we are not following the vecuna parallel with our African rhino," said Mr Hume.

He added, "The UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora CITES international rhino horn trade ban that has been in place and has not worked to stop rhino poaching for the past 40 years makes unsustainable for African people and their governments to continue paying for rhino conservation without benefits from trade in rhino horn, because without trade there is no incentive to save the rhino."

Meanwhile, he said that this situation curiously suits the animal rights groups and poachers who continue to benefit from the rhino poaching crisis by asking for millions of dollars to save a species for which funds they collect hardly reach their intended destination and for poachers the ban is good as the both the demand and the price for the horn are very high.

According to Mr Hume Western countries animal rights groups have continued to get bankrolled by billionaire-businesspeople from Western countries such as British multi-billionaire, Sir Richard Branson whom they misinform that trade in rhino horn will drive the rhino closer to extinction when in actual fact it does not; but out of ignorance or conservation values that are in conflict with those of African people and African rhino range states - these Western countries billionaires then continue to influence CITES member countries to vote against strictly controlled international trade in rhino horn.

"These animal rights groups include Wild Aid, Born Free Foundation, International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Humane Society of the United States," said Mr Hume.

"Why do they continue to ban rhino horn trade that is aimed to save the rhino as we believe in Africa, I suspect there will very little money that they will get when the rhino is no longer endangered. It is a huge industry, if you go to their websites you will see the 'donate now button' and that's what they do. "In South Africa here we have Wild and Free and various others. They all use the rhino's misfortune to collect money."

Nevertheless, the hope for saving Africa's rhinos is not lost said Mr Hume who believes that the world should soon come to its senses to make the rhino pay in order to stay, through the long-sought-after CITES strictly controlled international trade in rhino horn.

Meanwhile, Mr Hume has made a welcome offer to train African communities to breed rhino so that with increased numbers, CITES would have no leg to stand on to ban strictly controlled trade in rhino.

There is no doubt that communities neighbouring national parks and game reserves would like to grab Mr Hume's free rhino breeding training offer.

It seems the pressure is now on African governments to approach Mr Hume with the number of communities they would want him to give free rhino breeding training.

Mr Hume uses rotational grazing system just like cattle farmers do. He has 14 spacious white rhino grazing camps. "When I bought my wildlife ranch in Mpumalanga in 1990 with the intention to breed white rhino, I had never seen a rhino and never had anything to do with a rhino. I had seen them at a distance in Kruger National Park."

Two years later, Mr Hume started buying white and black rhinos for breeding. He discovered that they were wonderful animals and to his shock he also discovered how they were being persecuted by poachers through our African range states (those that have rhino populations in their game reserves and their national parks).

"I discovered that we were losing thousands of rhinos to poachers," said Mr Hume. "I started thinking of how I could help the rhinos and the best way I thought I could help stop them from becoming extinct I thought was breeding them which is what I have been doing for the past 20 years."

Unfortunately, in 2006 Mr Hume's Mpumalanga-based rhino breeding ranch was later hit hard by rhino poachers almost dashing his hopes of a wildlife species that the entire world has been struggle to save, under the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES); without success for the past 40 years.

Faced with the poaching problem, Mr Hume soon discovered that he needed to change his breeding location from his Mpumalanga ranch whose beautiful tree canopy, mountains, rivers and dongas also provided good hiding places for poachers; making it difficult to stop them from poaching on his ranch.

"So, I decided to find a place like this (his North West Rhino Breeding Ranch) that is flat, it is good grassland, it is good cattle country and therefore it is good for the rhino and one can spot poachers easily in this flat terrain," he said.

"In 2008, after I had lost about 20 rhino to poaching at my Mpumalanga Ranch, I moved to the North West. "We had rhino poaching here at my North West rhino breeding ranch but I still believe that here it is possible to save the rhino and I believe I am busy proving that. I believe I have the recipe here for the preventing rhino from becoming extinct through my breeding method."

Mr Hume said that saving the white rhino would also lead to saving the black rhino too. "I have the recipe for saving the rhino and anybody can do that too," said Mr Hume. "The governments have huge tracts of land like my ranch's open and flat land where poachers cannot hide."

Mr Hume speaks with authority and great confidence said that the recipe for successful rhino breeding involves the breeding of more rhinos per square-kilometre than is currently happening in "Kruger National Park or anywhere else".

"In order to do that you have to feed the rhinos in one camp," said Mr Hume. "We supplement the feed of our rhinos with about three tonnes of concentrates in winter and we bring them into relatively smaller but open areas where they still roam freely in a wilderness environment, in wide open spaces.

"It is a much heavier rhino stocking rate per kilometre than you would get for instance in the Kruger National Park. Because we give our white rhinos supplementary feeding and because they breed so well, they are very happy in this environment."

Mr Hume said that their supplementary white rhino feed is to ensure that the rhinos have protein content. "Our supplementary white rhino feed has a little grass in it, harmony chop, sunflower cake, Lucerne which gives it a much higher nutrition level but the grass here has very low nutritional content in which because it is very cold. They feed each rhino with three tonnes of concentrates annually. "That is about 15 kilogrammes of concentrate feed per rhino daily, especially during the winter months," said Mr Hume.

"Apart from conserving the white rhino by breeding them, I am also supporting South Africa's stock feed industry because I am buying about 4 500 tonnes of white stock feed, annually. We support the growers of Lucerne, maize and sunflower et cetera. That is about R10 million spent on stock feed only but that is less than half of my security costs by the way."

According to Mr Hume the security costs "are quite horrendous" so there is need to sell rhino horn in order to pay for the protection of his rhino.

Sadly, as long at the CITES ban on international Trade in rhino horn remains in place rhino breeders such as Mr Hume, including African rhino ranges states such as Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland South Africa and Zimbabwe who for years have been calling for strictly controlled international trade in rhino horn so that the rhino can pay to stay will continue to pay for rhino conservation, without benefits from trade.

The world's biggest rhino horn markets include Asian countries, especially China, South Korea, India and Malaysia; where it is used for medicinal purposes, to cure a variety of ailments.

The Chinese pulverise the horn into a powder, mix it with boiling water and use it to treat fever, rheumatism and gout disorders. However, scientists have continued to argue that the rhino horn does not have the medicinal properties that Asian countries that continue to use it say it has.

Emmanuel Koro is a World Bank International Award-winning environmental journalist, based in Johannesburg, South Africa

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