A Look at the Other Side as Carte Blanche Stirs Up Rhino Horn Infusion Controversy

Several people in South Africa were upset by the controversial broadcast on Sunday night of a segment by Carte Blanche that cast doubt over the rhino horn infusion method. In a country where latest statistics show that over 700 rhino have already been poached this year and that their future is precarious, many viewers expressed concern that the negative message was irresponsible and not in the best interests of conserving the rhino.

Rhino, South Africa
Photo: Prakash Bhikha www.prakashbhikha.com

On its website, Carte Blanche described the segment with the following words: “It was sold as a potential key solution to the scourge of poaching: infusion of the horns of living rhinos with a poison and indelible dye to contaminate them, diminishing their value. It was hoped that this drastic measure would finally deter poachers. But the jury is out on its success rate. Carte Blanche asks the hard questions. Is infusion an effective tool or a money-making business?”

After the show, the jury was out on Carte Blanche with almost all those who commented on CB’s facebook page about the Infusion segment complaining that the show was “poorly investigated”, “one-sided”, “taking sides with the pro-traders”, giving “Carte Blanche to the poachers to kill at will”, signing “our rhinos’ death warrant” and asked “what happened to truthfully looking at both sides of the story”?

If you did not see the show, you can view it here before reading the opinions below of game reserve shareholder Janine Scorer, and Rhino Revolution general manager Chris Martin. You can also see the above comments and more here.

One of the strongest voices on CB’s facebook page was that of Janine Scorer, a shareholder in a private game reserve which has used rhino horn infusion as one of their anti-poaching methods. Since so many people complained about the show being one-sided, we asked Janine to tell us the other side; and to give us some background to some of the comments in her FB post (which is also published below): 

Text by Janine Scorer:

There are many fantastic, hardworking dedicated people in this field and they all chip away, trying to create awareness and fighting for the rights of the creatures who cannot speak for themselves.

Often you realise that you are not going to make yourself popular with many sectors when you say what you think, and create awareness about the wrong doings of organisations, persons, and the like, where blatant mismanagement of our wild life occurs.

Many of these “animal angels” (my name for the persons who work hard to fight for the rights and lives of our animals), receive a lot of abuse and sometimes even threats from organisations they oppose.

Jenni Baxter from SAPeople saw a piece I wrote previously and asked me to do something around this reply that I had put on Carte Blanche’s Facebook page.

I wrote this as a shareholder in a Private Game Reserve, where we used rhino horn infusion as an added anti-poaching deterrent. From day one we knew this was not the silver bullet, but an additional measure to complement our other anti-poaching methods being implemented on the reserve.

We were gobsmacked to say the least that Carte Blanche did not take into consideration the rhino and their welfare in this very disturbing insert they did on Horn Infusion/devaluation.

They were asked not to do this as it would negatively impact on rhino which had been treated. They were also encouraged to consult with RRP clients, who could have confirmed to them that we were very happy with all aspects of this project, but they opted not to do so.

There were quite a few innuendos and untruths that came out of this, not to mention a good deal of editing so that the story appeared totally in favour of discrediting horn infusion as a devaluation practice. One of the persons interviewed who runs a big reserve where rhino had been treated was really upset that his interview was edited to make it look like he felt the devaluation did not work. This was so not true.

When we did our rhino we got the local communities around to come and attend the process so they watched the rhino being found via helicopter, darted and the holes drilled for the Ectoparasiticides & dye infusion. The insertion of a microchip and DNA samples were taken at the same time, and sent off to the national DNA data base. They watched the poison being pumped into the horns, and helped put signs up on all border fences to warn poachers that these horns were treated.

Hence the bush telegraph spread the word for us, regarding the fact that our rhino had been treated so the horns were no good for resale.

We chose this method over dehorning, as our rhino are part of a wild population and their horns in the wild are an incredibly important tool for their survival. This was done almost two years back now and our rhino have had no negative effects from the treatment.

So that is a bit of a background as to why I wrote what I wrote on the Carte Blanche page. Besides the fact that there is a long story behind the whole pro-trade issue and characters involved in pushing for the sale of rhino horn trade to be opened which I cover in brief below.

Most people think trade is a good solution but statistics and research show that the Asian population is way too large to ever make this successful, as we can never in a 100 years supply enough rhino horn to satisfy this market.

The second issue is that we have huge trouble policing illegal trade right now, so how are we ever going to effectively police whether the horn is a legal or illegal poached one? The black market will continue and it will undercut any prices set by legal trade. Opening trade once done could be a can of worms that can never be closed again, and this would be absolutely disastrous for our rhino.

The big players involved who have huge stock piles (government and some rhino farmers) are looking at the money they can make out of this; they will be lobbying CITES in 2016 to open trade or even allow a once-off sale of stock piles. In order for this to happen they will require a 2/3rds majority, and in light of what has happened with elephant when a one-off ivory sale was allowed the international community are not keen to do this. The problem I have with the whole trade issue is that the government have not looked past this for an alternative solution if (and more than likely when) trade permission is not given. What then?

The other thing we need to bear in mind is that this is still two years away. This morning I saw the number of rhinos poached in South Africa were now up to 716 and it’s only the 2nd of September. The question is do our Rhino have two more years?

Education campaigns also take time, and law enforcement in South Africa due to corruption is quite frankly a joke. So making our horns undesirable in the open market to me would be first prize for the rhino.

Hope this gives you some idea of what is going on and the background to my letter to Carte Blanche.

Here is the piece I wrote after watching the Carte Blanche insert :-

Sadly I think the Carte Blanche team were used by a small minority to discredit a method that has merit. If it did not have merit this group would not have gone out of their way to try to get this publicly discredited.

The Carte Blanche team did not ask actual owners who had their rhino treated whether they thought that they had been ripped off, or if they were unhappy about having had their animals treated and whether it helped to slow down poaching on their reserves……… none of this came up. Instead the programme happily put all our properties, which have our signs up saying our rhinos’ horns were toxic, at risk.

The fact is that it [rhino horn infusion] did reduce the amount of incursions onto these properties. For the most part it was working for us.

I have said before and I say it again – if one or two of those horns got into the Asian market it would slow down the demand for horn from South Africa. Ferreira was being dishonest in a couple of his answers, but that is to be expected, as he works for SANParks, who along with DEA and some very wealthy rhino farmers do not want the Asian market to think South African rhino horn is tainted, as this will hamper their sales of the massive stock piles all these parties hold.

You were used Carte Blanche and you did not even realise it. Sadly it has put our rhino in danger. No one thought about the rhino in this instance. IS this not about keeping rhino safe? If not then what is this all about?

Those parties which used Carte Blanche are the group who will be applying to CITES in 2016 to open trade in horn. The problem with that is, we do not know if this will stem the tide of poaching (judging by what has happened with the one-off sale of Ivory, after having had a total ban on sales and poaching was very low, Elephants are now being poached at an alarming rate – 34000+ a year are being poached.)

The other problem with WAITING FOR TRADE is, it is 2 years away, DO OUR RHINO HAVE TWO MORE YEARS?

702 RHINO TO DATE have been poached THIS YEAR ALONE and it is only 1 September.

In the meantime owners are looking for methods to complement their normal anti-poaching patrols and other measures – some dehorn, which is not ideal for wild populations as their horn is needed in order that they may defend themselves and dig for important minerals they require for their diets. Some opted for the horn devaluation offered by RRP.

Oh and just for your information dehorning also requires that the rhino is anesthetised, also so with chipping, when the rhino infusion is done a chip is inserted and DNA samples are taken and sent to the national DNA bank.

SADLY you [Carte Blanche] probably won’t even bother to read this, and well the damage is done is it not? How does it feel to have been used for a dishonest agenda?

We also contacted Chris Martin, General Manager of Rhino Revolution (an organisation that was started by citizens in Hoedspruit concerned by the inaction surrounding rhino poaching in the country) for his opinion. Chris is also a wildlife photographer and photographic safari guide.

Text by Chris Martin:

Let me firstly say…Rhino Rescue Project (RRP) are an example to the people of South Africa of the level of resolve and determination that is required to find a solution to this crisis, which is now of a magnitude that still many people seem to not understand nor appreciate. Lorinda [Hern] and Charles [van Niekerk] should be applauded for everything they have achieved. It seems these days that society is only interested in television drama, and pointing the finger at people who are trying to make a difference to the world. Sad…but it’s a fact of life.

As an organisation, Rhino Revolution remains neutral on many of the issues raised in the programme. We are not “Anti-Trade”, nor are we “Pro-Trade”. We are not “political” in our views. What we are about is applying the best tools and techniques available today for the protection of rhinos and education and community involvement plays a significant part of that.

Whether you choose to “infuse” or to “dehorn”, there are too many people out there who point the finger at you and your methods as well as trying at the same time to “second guess” your intentions.

Just looking at the threads on social media commentaries today on this matter there are so many inaccuracies in print surrounding both of these treatments. I appreciate people generally “speak from the heart” and are well-intentioned, but sometimes a little information can be dangerous when understood in the wrong context.

Let me be clear of one thing here – RRP can hold their heads high and should be applauded for their commitment in attempting to find a solution to a global crisis that has the eyes of the world now on South Africa.

Many rhino owners have been both impressed by RRP’s professionalism as well as blessed by a dramatic decline in attempted poaching incursions as a result of the public broadcasting that their rhinos have been treated.

SanParks are of course just as entitled to their own views but what the programme failed in my view to “finish on” was just what alternative strategy SanParks were going to adopt, as custodians of the majority of the world’s remaining rhino population, to at least try and stem the carnage taking place in the Kruger Park on a daily basis. Perhaps CB are saving that for a later programme??

Lorinda and Charles should be recognised by conservation bodies around the world for their dramatic pioneering work and unfailing commitment to rhino conservation…not hung out to dry by South African press agencies that would be better utilised harnessing their power to spreading a message to save rhinos, rather than sending a message out to the poaching syndicates that it’s “business as usual” and just ignore the toxic warnings.

www.rhino-revolution.com/

To read Rhino Rescue Project’s reaction to the Carte Blanche segment, please visit:
www.fb.com/pages/Rhino-Rescue-Project/192184154182685

Excerpts include:
“The facts are that, due to circumstances largely beyond our control, RRP (quite unintentionally) found itself in a position that would threaten SANParks’ ability to sell its horn stockpiles and/or its live rhinos. Instead of exhibiting a willingness to collaborate, SANParks chose to deal with this problem by discrediting RRP. And so, a promising research project that could contribute greatly towards South Africa’s anti-poaching efforts has been interrupted before we could reach definitive conclusions – then lambasted for a lack of definitive conclusions…! That’s kind of like walking out of a theatre in the middle of a movie, and then criticizing it for only being half a movie…One has to wonder whether the legendary Dr. Chris Barnard would ever have managed to perform the first successful heart transplant (without any existing literature from a “previous” transplant available) had he tried to accomplish this feat in the era of social media!”

RRP claim that many of the “aggressive attacks” on them have been based on so-called findings in a Report. In their statement, with a link to the report, they say “Since the authors of the Article have made no attempt to manage public expectations about its content, RRP has little choice but to make the attached information available (including the abridged CV and report of chemistry expert. Dr. HF Strauss), which debunks the myth that the Article contains, or is based on, any form of laboratory testing or chemical analysis of horn samples. Despite earlier claims in the media alluding to such tests, the Article in actual fact, contains no reference to “robust testing of samples” whatsoever.”

In the meantime, the poachers continue their assault on our rhino and our land. Transfrontier Africa reported yesterday that “in the early hours of Monday morning, David Powrie, the Warden of Sabi Sands and a close ally was brutally attacked in his home by poachers trying to gain access to rhino horn that they believed was kept on the premises. Dave fought them bravely but received multiple stab wounds to his neck and body. His wife was also stabbed numerous times. Their little baby is safe.

“This incident has shocked us to the core. Dave was one of the strongest allies in the fight against rhino poaching and had been the voice of reason for most of us. Sabi Sands has fought back for their rhinos and had made incredible progress – an inspiration to us all!”

The couple were reportedly taken by ER24 paramedics to Mediclinic Nelspruit where a spokesman said their condition was stable.

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