Rhino Poaching: A Nasty Business

Mike Boon: "Zambezi"During our time in South Africa these last three weeks, we had a chance to visit with my buddy Mike Boon and his family. I’ve written about Mike before. We met in high school in the 1970’s when Mike was a Rotary Exchange student in Texas. After a career in the military, he became a successful businessman and author. He’s written two books: “The African Way: The Power of Interactive Leadership” and “Zambezi: The First Solo Journey down Africa’s Mighty River.”

Mike owns a private game reserve near Mookgophong (formerly known as Naboomspruit) in the northernmost part of South Africa in the Limpopo Province. He reclaimed farmland and stocked it with giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, hippo, impala, eland, rhino and more. Pretty amazing place.

Giraffe @ Mike Boon's Private Game Reserve

Giraffe @ Mike Boon's Private Game Reserve.

True confession: the rhino scared me the most when we visited Mike’s farm in August, 2009. (Hippo rank a close second.) Let’s face it. Rhinos look like prehistoric beasts. HUGE head, two massive horns, beady eyes, snarly snout, wrinkled hide. Shudder. Mike’s rhinos ran along either side of Mike’s jeep, only a few feet away from us. Their horns seemed larger than the jeep itself. I found myself quite intimidated by the creatures. But not Mike. He stopped the jeep and walked out in the field with them, teaching us that the rhino has very poor vision, but a keen sense of smell and hearing.

Mike's Rhino. Photo credit: Mike Boon.

Mike's Rhino. Photo credit: Mike Boon.

In October and November of this last year, the unthinkable happened. Poachers attacked Mike’s tranquil farm, killing two of his six rhinos. The surviving rhinos suffered multiple gunshot wounds.

Rhino’s are killed for the “healing powers” of their horns — though they are nothing more than protein keratin (think fingernails).

Sometimes poachers collude with local vets or game wardens to identify where the rhinos might be found. They use planes and helicopters to spot their prey from the air, then drop guys in the field to track the animals on foot. After shooting the creatures, the poachers hack off the horns with an ax, leaving the creatures to bleed to death– as was the case with Mike’s rhinos.

Heartbreaking. Horrifying. Barbaric!

The story of Mike’s rhinos could be ripped from the pages of a Tom Clancy novel — complete with kidnapping, intrigue, and gunfire…and it’s not resolved yet. Working with the local police authorities, Mike tracked the poachers in the bush, catching two of them. You can read the news article for more details. I predict a third book in Mike’s future.

Poaching is a nasty business — the result of basic economics: supply and demand. As long as the demand is great and the supply scarce, poaching will continue.

For those of us who live away from the magnificent creatures who roam the bushveld in South Africa and other countries, we may be blissfully unaware of the poaching crisis across Africa. I can’t fix the problem, but I can at least write about it. I can share with you the story of Mike and his rhinos. I help point to stories that debunk the myth of special healing powers. Education is the key in the long run…as long as it’s not too late for the creatures at risk.

Arm yourselves with knowledge.

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