This article was initially meant to discuss how we can potentially address manpower efficiencies in the anti-poaching sector and was initially due to be posted by the end of June. Yet, as the adage goes, “no plan survives contact”. Although, I’d prefer to think that no plan fully survives contact. If the entire plan falls apart once the first shots are fired, then either your plan was wholly ill-conceived or there is no point in planning in the first place!

But I digress.

The point is that life and, more commonly, work takes over. Hitting one’s best intentions for six on the volley. I’m not complaining, though, as this has been an incredibly busy and exciting time for Veterans for Wildlife. Our second year of operations has truly begun in earnest and we have already surpassed the total number of projects delivered and volunteers deployed in 2016. What is more, we are diversifying.

Again, I digress.

If you wish to know more about Veterans for Wildlife, our partners on the ground and the work we are doing, then I encourage you to follow the organisation on the web and social media. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud - we are there.

Now, as I have already alluded to, my initial aim when conceiving of this article and its prelude was to touch upon the psychology of motivation. And how one could possibly get more out of the thinly stretched green line of Rangers deployed in the field. This is something that I may come back to in due course. However, our experiences over the course of the past 12 months and specific events in the last few days and weeks, have highlighted a far more serious and pressing concern. The enemy within.

Organisations such as ourselves and the many good people that we partner with on the ground face an increasingly up hill battle to secure the existence of endangered species. Just last week local news outlets were reporting on the arrest of a South African Police Service (SAPS) Captain on poaching-related charges. In the same region a game farm manager was arrested for the apparently illegal possession of rhino horns, elephant tusks and a significant stockpile of rifles and ammunition. And the breaking news this morning was that controversial land owner and rhino breeder, John Hume, has been granted permission to auction a portion of his vast stockpile of horn. 

Earlier this year, the South African judiciary lifted a moratorium on the local trade in rhino horn. Commentators and those opposed to the ruling were assured that this would in no way impact upon the international trade, which remains illegal. Yet, as we all know, the overwhelming demand for rhino horn and its related products stems from the Far East. Utilisation of and demand for rhino horn, where it does exist in South Africa, is negligible. Therefore, what possible purpose does a local trade serve and what possible value is there in John Hume’s private auction?

Surely, the only individuals purchasing rhino horn domestically (whether via the auction or elsewhere), are local agents or fronts? Surely these individuals are nothing more than the first leg in a chain of multiple follow-on transactions that will likely occur, prior to the horn being shipped overseas to fuel demand in the Far East? Surely, then, the local trade in rhino horn is simply aiding and abetting in the perpetration of an international crime? And surely all those involved are therefore complicit?

In posing these questions I honestly hope that someone on 'the inside’ of the domestic trade will come forward and provide truthful answers, engaging in thoughtful discussion. Hopefully they can pull back the veil and cast a light on this shadowy world, allaying the fears of so many conservation-minded individuals and organisations the world over. Indeed, it is to this end that I have registered to attend the physical auction of rhino horn to be held on 19 September 2017.

If the domestic trade in rhino horn is legal and there are good, noble reasons to engage in it, then surely the parties involved would not seek to hide their identity? I encourage you to keep posted on how this element of the story unfolds.

But, of course, John Hume and his auction are but small pieces of a much larger and complicated puzzle. Minister Edna Molewa and the Department of Environmental Affairs put up what can only be described as token resistance in the courts. Whether this should be attributed to individual and organisational capability or something more serious and damning is up for debate. Indeed, high-ranking officials have on more than one occasion been accused of direct involvement in the poaching crisis.

Under such conditions, the aim of securing endangered species from extinction becomes exponentially more difficult. We now face the compounded threat of: ill-informed consumers, poachers, habitat destruction, land owners, as well as public servants and officials! As such, the onus for action falls ever more on the general public. Whether it be via supporting organisations such as Veterans for Wildlife, petitioning government, spreading the message of conservation, educating colleagues, unmasking corruption, supporting impoverished and exploited communities, raising funds, volunteering your time - you all have a role to play. Let’s work together to prevent the loss of our invaluable natural heritage!