Combat Rhino Poaching

Rhino Foot Collar

Wildlife ACT Fund's Dr Simon Morgan fixing a VHF radio foot collar to the back leg of a white rhino bull.

I was privledged to guide and host members of Rhino Africa Safaris on a recent  trip to &Beyond Phinda Private Reserve. Whilst on safari we spent a day on a neighbouring reserve involved in the darting and collaring of a white rhino and an elephant for anti poaching and research purposes.

Check out the awesome video below showing the Wildlife ACT Fund team together with members of Rhino Africa Safaris in action. We helped fix a VHF radio foot collar to the back leg of the white rhino bull and a VHF radio neck collar to the elephant cow.

Eden Walking Festival along Garden Route, South Africa

Eden Walking Festival

Eden Walking Festival

Here is a superb concept for the first dedicated Walking Festival in South Africa. Created by Galeo Saintz as a project of the Saintz Foundation it allows enthusiastic walkers to become Walk Leaders or to join a walk as a participant. It’s about getting good company together in nature for a day of fun.

It takes place in the forests, mountains and beaches of the Garden Route in South Africa. There are 52 walks to chose from so it caters to everyones fitness levels and there is a variety of landscapes to walk in.  The festival is on between the 31 March and the 4th April 2012.

Check out Eden Walking Festival to get involved and be part of the fun.

Parliamentary Public Hearing on Rhino Poaching

Solutions to rhino poaching in SA

Black Rhino with Cattle Egret

Black Rhino with Cattle Egret

Notes on solutions put forward at the public hearing on the current rhino poaching crisis held at Parliament in Cape Town on Thursday 26th Jan 2012.

The Portfolio Committee on Water and Environmental Affairs requested members of the public to submit proposals to them on possible solutions to the rhino poaching crisis that has swept through South Africa. From the 40 proposals submitted they asked 16 groups to attend the public hearing to present their solutions.

Groups attending and their proposed solutions:

The Department of Environmental Affairs opened and gave an overview of the current situation bringing us all up to date with the latest stats and figures they had.
• Need to close down on hunting of rhino to nationals that come from countries with weak CITES control.
• Only two exporters of illegal horn arrested in 2011.
• Want to build an electric fence between Kruger National Park and Mozambique – estimated ZAR 240 million project.

Mr Andrew Muir – The Wilderness Foundation

• Decisive leadership is needed by the South African government as South Africa has the majority of the world’s rhino and as such, are their custodians.
• Mr Muir claims it costs ZAR 25 000 per rhino per year to protect – this means ZAR 500 million per year overall.
• They would support a legalised trade of horn collected from rhino dying of natural causes.
• He also stated that of the 150 organisations raising money from rhinos only 20 can account for how they use it.

Dr Joseph Okori – WWF

• Spoke about the strengths and weaknesses of current initiatives.
• No to trade until proper research has been done on numbers of rhino and end user markets.
• Dr Okori said that many people saw the legalisation of rhino horn trade as a ‘silver bullet’.
• This has been based on many economic assumptions, postulations and correlation to other non-sustainable forms of resource utilisation such as the diamond industry.
• He stated that government has suitable systems in place but needs to look at the ‘drivers’ of the systems to combat poaching.

Mr Mike Knight – SADC Rhino Management Group
• Private rhino owners in South Africa keep more rhinos than the rest of Africa combined.
• He suggested that we need to establish environmental courts – an increase in the successful prosecution and sentencing of couriers, buyers and exporters will act as a deterrent.

Dr Wihelm Schack – EkoWild

• Dr Schack proposed a joint African Asian Rhino Summit to build better relationships between Asian countries and SA.
• He also proposed that we gift rhino horn to Asian countries initially free of charge to end rhino poaching and then introduce a trade system.

Mr Dave Balfour – Eastern Cape Tourism Agency
• Called for increase in prosecutions of poachers along with harsher sentences.
• Loopholes in the system should be identified and closed, including acquisition of horn through legal hunting.
• He sytated that rhino’s should be farmed in user countries for their horn (not in South Africa) as farming them in South Africa would put the conservation of the rhino gene pool at risk.

Mr Jabulani Ngubane – KZN Ezemvelo Wildlife

• KZN Ezemvelo Wildlife have over seven tonnes of stored rhino horn from natural deaths.
• Decreased rhino poaching by 13% in 2011 compared to 2010.
• Deployed SANDF in strategic positions to protect rhinos.
• Pro-trade

Mr Terry Bengis – an individual.
• Called for a moratorium on all activities around rhino, no hunting and no transportation for six months.
• During this time controls would be put in place and all rhinos in South Africa need to be counted.
• Stockpiles must be accounted for.
• Opposed to legalised trade.

Ms Margot Stewart – an individual.
• Brought into the question the trade of rhino horn and called for the stockpiles to be destroyed.

Mr Michael Eustace – an individual.
• Pro-trade.
• Claimed the international ban on trade imposed in 1977 by CITIES had failed.
• By legalising the trade in rhino horn it could save the species.

Mr Clive Walker – an individual.
• Pro-trade.
• Called for harsher jail sentences, consolidation in policies, and DNA sampling.

Mr T’sas Rolfes – an individual. Rhino Economics 

• Pro-trade.
• He stated that the market was a niche market and the best way to combat poaching is to legalise trade.
• This would reduce prices and generate important revenue for conservation.

Mr Pelham Jones – Wildlife Ranching South Africa

• Pro-Trade. Legalised trade and No to moratorium on hunting

Mr Galeo Saintz – Rhino Reality

• Proposes educating the end user markets in Asia to end the demand for rhino horn.
• Partnering with WildAid to drive this message home to a billion Asian’s per week.

Mr Kobus du Toit – an individual
• Called for all rhino to have DNA samples taken and put into a national database.

Ms Belynda Petrie – an individual.
• Opposed to trade

Here are the top 15 tweets from #rhinohearing that were tweeted on the day of the Parliamentary public hearing.

There was a strong divide between those calling for legalised trade in rhino horn as a commodity and those against it.

Only Rhino Reality dealt with the issue of educating the end user markets as a proposed solution out of the 14 submissions.

Reflections Eco Reserve

On a recent road trip along the Garden Route in South Africa I was lucky to spend a night at Reflections Eco Reserve. This beautiful 26 hectare piece of land has a prize location bordering Rondevlei Lake just outside Wilderness and is surrounded on 3 sides by the Garden Route National Park. Owners Tim and Angelique Carr have cleared all the exotic pine trees, except for one row bordering the channel of the lake where the resident African Fish Eagles nest, and have rehabilitated the land planting hundreds of indigenous trees. 

Reflections Eco Reserve Cottage

Reflections Eco Reserve Cottage

We stayed in one of the 4 stunning luxury self catering wooden chalets. The chalets are amazing and made completely out of wood with gas stoves and fridges, solar heated water, rain water tanks for drinking water and a combination of wind turbine and solar power for electricity. For washing there is bore hole water and biodegradable soaps. This place has to be one of the most environmentally friendly places I have stayed at. They ask guests to help with recycling and have a vegetable garden which guests can pick vegetables and herbs from. The chalets can sleep 4 adults and 2 children.

Rondevlei Lake is a Ramsar wetland which means it is a wetland of importance for bird migrations and has large numbers of water birds utilizing it. There is nothing better than waking up to the sound of African Fish Eagles calling. You also have the opportunity of seeing over 140 bird species, Cape Clawless Otter, Water Mongoose, Caracal, Bushpig, Grey Duiker and Grysbok.

Sunrise over Rondevlei Lake

Sunrise over Rondevlei Lake

It is perfect for people looking for a relaxing wilderness destination on the Garden Route that is close and accessible to the beaches and forests.

Check out Reflections Eco Reserve if you looking for a well deserved break in nature.

Black and White Rhino’s in Africa

Look at these beautiful creatures that are being poached for their magnificent horns. The poachers send the horns to Asia, South East Asia and the Middle East to supply a demand for traditional medicines, potions, remedies and ornaments. Scientists have proven that rhino horn has no medical value as a medicine and won’t cure illnesses like Aids and cancer.

In the long run I feel that the rhinos survival depends on educating the people in the countries where there is the demand for horns. Through education we can hopefully end the demand for horns. In the meantime it is up to the hero’s of the conservation world to fight poaching on the ground and to protect our rhinos. If you would like to get involved in helping to save Africa’s rhinos check out Challenge4aCause and the below blog posts.

White Rhino at Sunset

White Rhino at Sunset

Hooked Lip or Black Rhino Cow and Calf

Hooked Lip or Black Rhino Cow and Calf

Square Lipped or White Rhino and Calf

Square Lipped or White Rhino and Calf

Black Rhino

Hooked Lipped or Black Rhino

War On Rhino Poaching

It is on the news, the front page of magazines like Africa Geographic and Getaway and everyone is talking about it. It is Rhino poaching and the drastic increase in the deaths of rhinos in Africa in the last 2 years for their horns. It is a war with the Government, the army, NGOs, private reserves, rangers, guides and everyday folk getting involved to combat the poaching.

Over the next few blog posts we will look at the reasons why there is a demand for rhino horns, how modern day poachers are killing rhinos and what you can do to help combat the poaching.

Last year South Africa lost 333 rhinos and so far this year the poaching is continuing at an alarming rate. In January and February this year we lost 51 rhinos. At this rate the amount of rhinos being poached is starting to affect the population numbers with the deaths overtaking the births. This means that if the rhino poaching continues we are facing another dire situation like the 70’s with our rhino populations facing extinction. This is a very sobering thought.

However it is not all doom and gloom. There is always hope and champions who will pick up the fight. Wildlife ACT is one such team of dedicated conservationists who are actively engaged in monitoring and protecting endangered species like Black and White Rhino, Cheetah and Wild Dog.

The Wildlife ACT Fund has teamed up with Rhino Africa Safaris, a Cape Town based safari travel company, who are passionate about rhino’s. Together they are running a not for profit fundraising platform called Challenge4aCause. This year they are raising money through 3 mountain biking events with the funds raised going to the save The Rhino Trust, who protect the largest free ranging population of black rhinos outside of national parks in the world, and the Wildlife ACT Trust, who will use the funds for monitoring of rhinos and also the development and implementation of new technologies for rhino anti poaching.

If you would like to get involved and help raise funds either through participating in one of the amazing mountain bike rides or through sponsorship please email Jon at info@challenge4acause.com and I will send you information.

Feel Like A Challenge For Conservation?

It’s that time of year again! And once again Challenge4aCause is looking for heroes.

Challenge4aCause was founded in 2009 in order to save the critically endangered desert adapted black rhino. Over the past couple of years Challenge4aCause was run and managed by Rhino Africa. This year, we have decided to expand our fundraising by running multiple challenges and it has therefore been decided that Challenge4aCause should be managed as its own entity. Rhino Africa remains an integral part of Challenge4aCause and supports Challenge4aCause through marketing, participation and donations.

Challenge4aCause is essentially a fund raising platform for wildlife conservation and community upliftment in Africa. The principle of Challenge 4a Cause is simple – take part in an extraordinary event that will push your personal and physical boundaries while raising funds and awareness for critically endangered and threatened species. In 2011 we are running three mountain biking events in some of Africa’s most breathtaking landscapes.

http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=10150371964155391

This year, we are aiming to raise ZAR1.1 million with all proceeds being distributed between:

1) Wildlife ACT Fund;
2) Save the Rhino Trust;
3) Good Work Foundation.
The Save the Rhino Trust will use the funds to support anti-poaching units protecting the largest free ranging black rhino population in the wild. The Wildlife ACT Fund will use the funds to develop and implement new anti-poaching technologies for rhinos and monitor other threatened and endangered species. The Good Work Foundation will use the funds to promote the education of disadvantaged individuals in rural areas.

Details of the events can be found on the Challenge4aCause Facebook page.

desert-riders

Penguins, Whales, Caves and Big Trees – Private Guided Road Trip

I recently had the privilege of guiding Miri and Tal, 2 wonderful ladies from Israel, around the Western Cape Province. We spent 2 nights at the Radisson Blu Waterfront Hotel in Cape Town and this gave us a full day to explore around Cape Town. In the morning after coffee and breakfast we looked out over the Waterfront to a massive dark cloud hiding Table Mountain from sight. We had planned on starting our morning adventure with a ride up the Cable Car to get an eagle eye view of the city and surroundings. With the dark clouds this was not possible so we changed plans and headed out to Boulders Beach to see the African Penguins.

Juvenile African Penguin at Boulders Beach

Juvenile African Penguin at Boulders Beach

What a great morning, we had the whole place to ourselves and the penguins were very curious about us and came right up to check us out.

African Penguin Colony at Boulders Beach

African Penguin Colony at Boulders Beach

After seeing the penguins we headed to Simonstown harbour to have a coffee. Yes, you might have picked up that the ladies liked their coffee and this was to be a theme for our road trip – finding funky coffee shops.

After coffee we headed to the Cape Point Nature Reserve where Tal dipped her finger in the sea of False Bay and we saw the south-western most point in South Africa, the Cape of Good Hope. At the Cape Point I explained that this wasn’t the meeting point of the 2 oceans as everyone believes nor was it the southern most point in Africa. Cape Agulhas is the southern most point in Africa. The meeting point of the cold Atlantic Ocean Benguela Current and the warm Agulhas Current of the Indian Ocean fluctuates between the Cape Point and Cape Agulhas.

Cape Point

Cape Point

 

Cape of Good Hope

Cape of Good Hope

We left Cape Point and headed to Cafe Roux in Noordhoek for lunch and coffee. At Cafe Roux we arrived to find it packed to the rafters and a Cafe Roux Idols show was on the go with local talent singing their hearts out. Miri and Tal loved it.

We headed home via the scenic Chapman’s Peak Drive and enjoyed some local South African flavours for dinner at Karibu Restaurant in the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront.

The next morning we awoke to even heavier cloud covering Table Mountain. Both Miri and Tal laughed about the fact that they hadnt’ seen the famous Table Mountain. With the rain clouds chasing us we drove via Gordons Bay along the coastal road to Hermanus. In Hermanus we stopped off for a – you guessed it – coffee and saw our first Southern Right Whale in Walker Bay. After our coffee we headed out to Klein Gansbaai. Here we embarked on a adrenalin filled boat cruise with Dryer Island Cruises. The large ocean swell caused our boat to bob all over the show. On our 3 hour boat cruise we saw a Great White Shark, a Humpback Dolphin, at least 8 Southern Right Whales, thousands of Cape Fur Seals and a great array of pelagic bird life.

Southern Right Whales Tail

Southern Right Whales Tail

Cape Fur Seal Colony at Geyser Rock

Cape Fur Seal Colony at Geyser Rock

Back in Hermanus we had a scrumptious lunch at Aubergine Restaurant and a walk around the town. From the cliffs overlooking Walker Bay we could see about 4 whales lobtailing and enjoying themselves. We spent the night at Aubergine Guest House which was superb.

The following day we drove from Hermanus via the R62 to the Cango Caves at Oudtshoorn. Along the way we stopped for lunch, a wine tasting and coffee at Joubert-Tradouw Private Cellar. They have a fantastic outside courtyard under vines for lunches with a great deli.

We made the last tour of the day at the Cango Caves (after a coffee) and all of us were amazed at the timescale of the drip formations in the Caves measured in hundreds of thousands of years.

Stalactite and Stalagmite Drip Formation in the Cango Caves

Stalactite and Stalagmite Drip Formation in the Cango Caves

From the Cango Caves we drove over the Outeniqua Pass onto the Garden Route and ended at the Knysna Waterfront Protea Hotel. In the morning we woke up slightly earlier than usual and after a coffee we drove to the Dalene Matthee Memorial and Big Tree in the Milkwood Knysna Forest. Tal had read “Circles in the Forest” and thoroughly enjoyed the story and for her it was fantastic to see and walk in the forest where the book is set. We had time for a short walk in the forest and heard the haunting call of the Narina Trogon. The Big Tree is a massive towering giant of an Outeniqua Yellowood or Kalander Tree.

Dalene Matthee Outeniqua Yellowood Big Tree

Dalene Matthee Outeniqua Yellowood Big Tree

 

Miri and Tal walking in the Knysna Forest

Miri and Tal walking in the Knysna Forest

From the Knysna Forest we headed to Thesen Island for breakfast at one of my favourite restaurants, Ile de Pain (Island of Bread). They do seriously good coffee, fantastic breakfasts and unbelievable breads and pastries. After a superb breakfast we drove along the N2 through Port Elizabeth, past Grahamstown to andBeyond Kwandwe Private Reserve. Here I said my goodbyes to Miri and Tal and left them to enjoy 3 nights of safari at Kwandwe Great Fish River Lodge before they headed home to Israel.

Contact Information:

Cafe Roux – http://www.caferoux.co.za/

Ile de Pain – http://www.iledepain.co.za/

Aubergine Guest House – http://www.auberge.co.za/

Dryer Island Cruises – http://www.dyer-island-cruises.co.za/

Eden to Addo Mega Hike 2010

Eden To Addo is a conservation group based on the Garden Route in South Africa and their main focus is Biodiversity Conservation. Their long term plan is to create biodiversity corridors that link the Garden Route National Park, the Baviaans Mega Reserve and the Addo Elephant National Park together.

Once a year in September Eden To Addo hosts the Eden To Addo Great Corridor Hike. This is a 400 km mega hike that starts in the Harkerville Forest on the coast and ends 18 days later at Addo Elephant National Park. I was extremely lucky to be invited to help on this years hike as a learner guide with a view to guide and help lead future hikes.

Mountain Vista

Mountain Vista

The longest hike I had ever done previously was a 12 day hike in the Cederberg Mountains as a Boy Scout so it was with a bit of trepidation that I agreed to do the walk. The fact that the hike was to raise awareness regarding biodiversity and the establishment of correct land use practices was a major reason why I signed on.

Biodiversity Corridors are a relatively new field in conservation and the idea is that by creating continuous paths or corridors of indigenous vegetation you maintain the biodiversity of a region. Alien vegetation and bad land use practices often cause a barrier that some birds, insects and animals won’t cross. This leads to a decrease in biodiversity in an area as gene pools get smaller due to the lack of movement of animals, birds, insects and plants into the area from other regions. Biodiversity Corridors conserve viable populations of threatened and endemic species and cover enough of an area to sustain natural processes such as Carbon and nutrient cycling, seed dispersal, pollination and water cycles.

The hike was one of the best walking experinces I have ever had. Over the 18 days we walked through 5 different plant biomes – Afromontane Forest, Fynbos, Succulent Karoo, Savanna Grassland and Namib Karoo. The number of different plant species along the route is a staggering 12 000. As a guide I’m excited by the challenge of learning some of them. We crossed mountain ranges, rivers, fences and enjoyed some of the most splendid views and vistas each day.

Sunset Over the Outeniqua Mountains

Sunset Over the Outeniqua Mountains

The hike was superbly organised and lead by Galeo Saintz, the pioneer who planned and scouted the route originally. Each day we walked from camp after a hearty breakfast at 08H00 after doing some warm up exercises. To cover the distance we had to walk on average about 20 km per day. What I really enjoyed about the structure of the hike was that each day we had a contemplation to think about and then we would walk in silence for about 1 hour. The contemplations worked with the terrain we walked through and it was great food for thought. Each night as we sat around the camp fire enjoying dinner we would discuss the day, what we liked and didn’t like and our thoughts on the contemplation.

Logistically we had a superb support crew, Bhejane 4×4 Adventures, who put up our tents, cooked all our meals, gave us hot water for bucket showers, dug the latrines and ensured we were well looked after. They were fantastic and nothing was too much for them. All we had to carry each day was a small backpack with our lunch, water and wet weather gear.

The Team Tackling One Of The Hills in Stride

The Team Tackling One Of The Hills in Stride

I found the hike was a great challenge and personal journey, walking 8 hours each day gives you a lot of time for thinking. I’m already eagerly looking forward to next years hike and highly recommend it to all nature lovers and walkers.

The Sep 2010 Eden to Addo Mega Hike Team

The Sep 2010 Eden to Addo Mega Hike Team

Great White Shark Cage Diving

It was the perfect morning on the Atlantic Ocean in Walker Bay off Gansbaai with no wind, no clouds, a perfect sunrise and smooth water. I was going on my first ever Great White Shark cage dive. Yes I had watched the infamous Jaws as a youngster and so was both nervous and excited to meet one of the oceans top predators. As we cruised out to the Straits of Dyer Island about 20 minutes from Gansbaai I thought on all I knew about sharks and realised that it was mostly information I had gleaned from the news and in one or two wildlife documentaries. I was expecting frantic action and lots of floating dead fish to attract the sharks. The experience that followed was completely different to my expectations and changed my perception of sharks.

Starting with the welcome breakfast at the headquarters of the White Shark Projects, through the orientation by the Captain and crew, seeing the Sharks to the end of the experience back at the headquarters with a bowl of delicious soup I was blown away. The organisation ran smoothly and the knowledge of the crew was outstanding.

We boarded the boat after a welcome introduction and safety briefing and were driven out to the best area of the Straits of Dyer Island and anchored the boat. Whilst the crew placed the cage alongside the boat and chummed the water we were informed step by step what was happening and how we were going to get into the cage once a shark was sighted. Just like been on a safari there is no guarantee that we would see a Great White Shark as they are nomadic and not territorial. The sharks cruise into the area attracted by the 20 – 30 000 Cape Fur Seals that reside on Geyser Rock opposite Dyer Island. The “chum” is a mixture of anchovy fish oil and finely mashed tuna pieces that is poured out behind the boat to form a scent line that a shark picks up with its superb sense of smell and follows back to the boat allowing for fantastic viewing.  As the chum is so fine it is not a big messy slick and is used more to lure the sharks with their fantastic sense of smell than to feed the sharks.

We hadn’t been anchored for more than 15 minutes when the first Great White Shark appeared on the scene. From the top of the boat on a viewing deck you could clearly see the shark gliding around the boat with the distinctive dorsal fin breaking the oceans surface. I was enthralled watching this streamlined powerful ocean predator slowly and peacefully swim circles around the boat. There was no frantic action, it was very calm and peaceful.

Once a shark has approached the boat the first 5 guests make their way into the cage which is tied up alongside the boat. Basically you are clad in a thick warm wetsuit and booties with a weight-belt and goggles. You then lower yourself into the cage and once in position take a breath and lower yourself underwater to view the sharks as they glide around the cage.

Great White Shark Lured In With Tuna Fish Head Bait

Great White Shark Lured In With Tuna Fish Head Bait

To attract the sharks close to the cage a massive tuna head is attached to a rope by string and throw about 8 meters in front of the cage. As the shark glides towards the bait the rope is slowly pulled in towards the cage just out of the sharks reach so it follows it right up to the front of the cage. The views of the sharks from inside the cage are out of this world.

Great White Shark Investigating Left Hand Corner Of Cage

Great White Shark Investigating Left Hand Corner Of Cage

I was positioned on the far left of the cage and every time this one shark came up to the cage it would swim right past me on the left brushing the cage. Looking into it’s pitch black eye and watching it glide past with rows of teeth showing was exhilarating and a massive adrenalin rush. You get to spend about 20 minutes in the cage before the next group has a go so everyone who wants to dive gets to experience viewing the sharks under water. We were extremely fortunate and had 4 different White Sharks come and investigate the boat and cage.

After 3 hours, 4 Sharks and 1 breaching Southern Right Whale we headed back to Gansbaai and the White Shark Projects headquarters. At the headquarters we had a refreshing shower, bowl of soup and watched the DVD of our trip. I was very impressed with the overall operation. White Shark Projects has volunteers that help the crew collect data on the approximate length and sex of the sharks that they see each day. They also take photographs of the sharks dorsal fins which is used to compile an identity kit of the sharks that they see.

The main aim of the Shark Cage diving is to change the public perception of sharks and show them for what they are -a vital apex predator that is instrumental in maintaining healthy populations in the seas. At the moment sharks are heavily threatened due to the trade in Shark jawbones with their rows upon rows of teeth showing and also the trade in shark fins for shark fin soup. These 2 industries lead to the deaths of about 100 million sharks ever year across the worlds oceans. Great White Sharks only start breading when males are 3.8 meters long and females 4.8 meters long. The 4 sharks we saw were all between 2.5 and 3.5 meters long and so weren’t reproductively active. With the massive wholesale slaughter of sharks worldwide we will eventually lose viable breeding populations of these apex predators.

So spread the word and I highly recommend going on a boat to experience these amazing ocean predators. If you don’t feel up to getting in the water with the sharks in a cage you can also have amazing viewing from the boat itself.

p.s I recommend taking sunscreen and motion sickness pills