The Wilderness Foundation, in partnership with Investec Rhino Lifeline and the Peace Parks Foundation, has launched a competition in Vietnam as part of their Forever Wild Rhino Protection Initiative.
Matthew Norval, Conservation Director of the Wilderness Foundation and Rodney Visser, Group Security Manager of Shamwari Group, recently hosted presentations at selected private schools in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) to introduce the Vietnamese youth to the competition.
The challenges facing South Africa with regard to rhino poaching are well-documented with more than 1,000 rhino having been poached in 2014 alone. The South African government, parastatals and non-government organisations are working on a number of fronts in an attempt to curb this critical situation. While much attention is given to strengthening the protection of rhino, in situ attempts at demand reduction in user countries have been relatively limited.
In April 2014 the Wilderness Foundation, with partners Shamwari Group, Investec Rhino Lifeline and Mantis Collection, hosted Vietnamese pop stars Thu Minh and Thanh Bui in South Africa to give them an authentic wildlife experience with rhino. The purpose of the visit was to educate them on the rhino poaching crisis, and to introduce them to the teams and people involved in combating rhino poaching every day.
Subsequently these two prominent ambassadors have teamed up with the Wilderness Foundation to launch the Wild Rhino Competition to Vietnamese youth at 12 private schools in Ho Chi Minh City. This intervention will result in 24 Vietnamese school-going students from the upper echelons of Vietnamese society being immersed in rhino related matters, allowing them to return home as dedicated and informed ambassadors for the cause.
The 24 winners will be brought to South Africa to attend a five-day traditional wilderness trail, facilitated by the Wilderness Leadership School in the iMfolozi Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal. They will also be taken to the bomas in the reserve to spend time with the rhino calves orphaned as a result of poaching. Further activity includes attending workshops where they will be exposed to the challenges facing conservation efforts generally, as well as the full reality and implications of rhino poaching and wildlife crime. Youth from communities surrounding iMfolozi will participate in the workshops to encourage interaction and dialogue with the Vietnamese students.
“As the poaching threat increases, anti-poaching efforts must be broadened and accelerated. If poaching continues to escalate at its current rate, rhinos could become extinct in the wild in less than a decade. Thereare thousands of dedicated, passionate rangers in South Africa and other rhino range states, standing between the rhinos and the poachers – but they need our help. We believe that the Wild Rhino Competition, which forms the pilot of our planned broader Demand Reduction Campaign, will take us a step further to reducing the demand for rhino horn in a user country,” says Andrew Muir, CEO of the Port Elizabeth based Wilderness Foundation.
Through its Rhino Protection Programme, the Peace Parks Foundation has made a significant financial contribution to make the launch and roll-out of the competition possible Says Werner Myburgh, CEO of Peace Parks Foundation: “The education of youth in countries that trade and use rhino horn is an essential component of a global demand reduction strategy, and this project is a natural fit for the Rhino Protection Programme. By positively shaping the youth’s perceptions about the realities of rhino poaching, and instilling a deeply-ingrained respect for wildlife, they in turn can play an influential role to educate their peers and communities. We are very proud to be associated with a project that has such a collaborative nature – more collaborations like these can make a real difference in the fight against rhino poaching. It is our hope that the youth can become the reasoning voice that it is simply socially unacceptable – or better put, not cool – to use rhino horn as a status symbol, to the detriment and ultimate demise of this iconic species.
The Rhino Protection Programme (RPP) is implemented under the auspices of the South African Department of Environmental Affairs in partnership with South African National Parks, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and Peace Parks Foundation that focuses on combatting wildlife crime. Earlier this year the RPP received funding from the Dutch and Swedish Postcode Lotteries which has made the roll-out of this mutli-faceted programme possible. The funds allocated to launch and run the Wild Rhino Competition is a direct result of the Dutch and Swedish Postcode Lotteries’ support.