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Dereck Joubert. Safaritalk Q & A - Great Plains Zeros for Rhinos.

Game Warden
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Dereck and Beverly Joubert


These questions were submitted by members of Safaritalk to Dereck Joubert after Great Plains Foundation’s initial press relase on the Zeros for Rhinos intiative in this topic here.


Given that rhino have gone locally extinct once already in Botswana, (this with a restock from South Africa), please explain what has changed?! Is the BDF now suddenly a more effective rhino protection unit? Are Botswana wildlife authorities now better qualified to manage rhino? Please clarify the 'excellent security' that you claim is now in place and how tagging and microchips will stop these rhinos being poached? These questions need to be addressed adequately before a 100 rhinos are sent to there deaths. We have lost enough already.


Rhinos were poached down so low once that we had to make two serious strategic changes in Botswana and two films may help understand this, (Rhino Rescue and Wildlife Warriors).


Firstly, we, (and I mean the nation of Botswana, conservationists, and authorities), had to swoop in and remove the very last rhinos from the

wild in the 1980/1990s to put into safe houses, (parks and reserves in captivity), and secondly, take the management of anti-poaching into the hands of the BDF where it was not before 1992. Prior to that it was run by DWNP.


In the early 2000s a test group of rhinos was introduced and in ten years we have lost no more than 6. Similarly, there is a value of elephant counting that indicates poaching levels: PIKE, Percentage of Illegally Killed Elephants, as a value of natural deaths to poached ones. The PIKE value of 30% is considered the tipping point beyond which poaching is higher than can be sustained. Samburu has a 33% PIKE value, Selous has an 84% PIKE and Botswana has a 1-3% PIKE. Poaching of elephants in this environment is indicative of what we can expect with rhinos. 3% if overlaid on the South African situation where the rhinos equivalent of natural versus unnatural is unknown but certainly well over the Selous elephant record of 84%. So any effort to move rhinos to a lower poaching area is the right move right now.


Further, we are in discussions with private funders and government to develop better BDF led and privately trained, anti poaching teams, with advanced technology so that we are prepared should poaching follow. Lastly, Botswana is not like the Kruger, (where most of the poaching occurs), it is a vast open landscape with a very low human density, few access roads, no opportunity for private helicopters to fly around without being noticed and a government that is very serious about a.) shooting to kill as a policy, and b.) convictions.


Having said that, we can expect an increase in poaching throughout Africa, no country will be immune. We can expect legislation slip ups because no system is perfect. However, Botswana checks all the boxes for a formula that will secure rhinos longer than where they presently are under siege.


Great, but if this is of major benefit to Botswana, Great Plains and &Beyond, how much is the government and each of these companies contributing to saving the rhinos especially as both Great Plains and&Beyond profess to be conservation companies foremost, rather than purely commercial entities?”


What a strange question. However…


1.) This is a private initiative and a private sector/government partnership designed to first of all save rhinos from a high poaching zone and take them to a low poaching zone in Africa, albeit across a border. Should the poaching ever subside in SA then the offspring will be available to be repatriated;


2.) It is a selfless initiative on behalf of GPC and &Beyond, not a commercial one: the rhinos may not even be released or even end up on properties leased by those two companies;


3.) It is designed to achieve only one thing: to connect the dots between a.) high risk rhinos, b.) low risk area, c.) increase the national herd of Botswana and d.) create a Noah’s Ark in the region with a more balanced population.


Surely USD8 million is not much for the Botswana government to stump up to bring major PR benefits over a long period to say that they’re again a Big 5 destination - just look at all these little game reserves in South Africa who massively trade off saying that they are ‘Big



This is not a PR stunt to create a Big 5 game experience. Great Plains does not believe in the Big 5. We are, at our core, against hunting and the entire philosophy and ethos of hunting. And Big 5 is an archaic term referring to the five most dangerous animals to shoot and kill to increase the perceived risk and because hunting is what it is, to increase the fun in killing those animals. We also do not use the term ‘game’ for the same reasons. Game is an offshoot of the sport of hunting, and killing, which in our culture at Great Plains, is an unethical and irresponsible way to interact with the planet and its living organisms.


Research is very clear: from a tourism perspective the animals that most attract tourism are lions, elephants and leopards in African savanna ecosystems. Rhinos and buffaloes are not big draws. Most of our guests want to see hippos and giraffe more than rhinos, and frankly at occupancies around 75% I think that the current tourism model without rhinos works quite well for us. Therefore, this is about making the ecosystem whole again. I often say that wilderness without animals is just open space. A great friend of mine, Tom Lovejoy, actually coined the phrase bio-diversity and this effort is all about recreating or repairing the bio-diversity of Botswana’s Okavango region back to its former healthy state. This is also just the first of many programs you will see from Great Plains. We have moved lions and cheetahs before and in time we might look at sable antelope or other animals that we consider under threat and in need of help.


To the point about why government doesn’t stump up the $8M, the answer is that government has a range of things to do with its money, some goes to conservation but in this case this is something we ‘wanted’ to do, as a gift to the nation. If one goes around finding ways to not pay for things and to pass that burden off to others, one will lead a very insular life, philanthropy will die and very little will get done. Besides that, the industry has always asked us what they can do for conservation; the tourism industry wants to feel like meaningful partners and stakeholders. This is the time, this is the cause. Lastly, I think that travellers, certainly Great Plains and &Beyond travellers want to feel as they have travelled responsibly and contributed something beyond a bed night fee. Africa touches one’s heart and soul in profound ways when you see it first hand, and many want to make sure that is protected. For us, this project gives everyone a vested interest in protecting rhinos and wildlife in general in Botswana by contributing even in a small way, while knowing that some government just wrote a check is very different. It’s about emotional and intellectual participation and to a degree ownership by guests and interested travellers.


How will the rhinos be protected?


Botswana has a very good record of anti-poaching. No network is impenetrable and we anticipate poaching increases everywhere. But at a kill rate of a rhino every 8 hours in SA and a much, much less rate in Botswana then the risk is much lower. That low poaching rate is because the Botswana Defense Force is proactive and makes Botswana dangerous for poachers in way that other countries are not. Other conditions weigh in as well: a.) a low human population around reserves and wild areas; b.) a national population of people who largely believe that tourism and wildlife is a benefit; and c.) large open land that is very difficult to access; with d.) very few easy entry and exit points. In addition, a portion of the project budget goes to enhancing some of the anti-poaching activities and aiming that specifically at better rhino control and protection.


Why is advertising this in open forum a smart thing to do because now poachers and traffickers know that there will be 100 rhino brought into Botswana. Wouldn't it be better to keep tight-lipped about something like this?


We want to send a signal of proactive conservation to everyone, and that the stakes will be high and the risk even higher for poachers. If we have an influx of rhinos, we will also have heightened security. But I believe that while it may alert some poachers, it will also alert conservationists and citizens and unite them around the effort and make it much harder for poachers. This effort also calls for help in ideas on surveillance and technology. We anticipate tracking devices, and poisoning. We won’t just be offloading 100 rhinos into the wild. These will be the best-protected rhinos in Africa. But the world is jaundiced about hearing bad news about rhinos. When that happens market’s retreat. People become despondent, and feel helpless. This initiative gives hope. And hope needs to be public.


How many black rhino and how many white rhino?


Can’t say. I’m hoping for an 20/80 mix.


Where in Botswana will they be going?


That one I am definitely not answering. It also goes to answering the above questions about security. They are going to Botswana. All locations beyond that are secret.


What is the anti-poaching strategy?


Largely handled above but more funding will go into anti-poaching strategies overall. Drones, poison, Bantom surveillance, dedicated teams, more training. Further than that, is a security risk to reveal but enhancement of anti-poaching is part of the project’s budget.


And why a 100 in total? Even 50 of each species will mean that the population will be started with a number quite a bit higher than the minimum number of rhinos needed to start a long-term self-sustaining population. Why not establish 2 black rhino populations, and 2 white rhinopopulations in 2 different locations?


100 is our goal. The split and distribution may well end up as you say, but further than moving threatened rhinos to Botswana there are no details to discuss but to say that the movement of rhinos is very complex and wide-ranging. Over management that means second and third captures is something I want us to avoid. They will find and establish territories and repopulate to levels we once had in Botswana and where we once had them in Botswana.


So why are they looking for donors rather than investors?


We are looking for both. If anyone wants to invest in a rhino, we will definitely work with that idea.


Why are they not capable of attracting investors?


I actually see this ALL as an investment, where anyone putting cash in is indeed investing in rhinos, in Botswana, and in the future. Are you talking about investors into Great Plains and then using that investment cash into rhinos? Remember that these are not Great Plains’ or &Beyond’s rhinos. We will most likely not ever even have any rhinos on Great Plains properties. The release program will be secret and unpublished and not quite random but not in favor of our companies, and as a result, not suitable for a commercial investment based on a potential commercial increase in trading. I’m not interested in increasing our stock price.


Or are they not willing to share? Rephrase. I think the problem lies in the ownership of the rhinos. The rhinos will have to be bought in SA, but once they are released in Botswana they probably become the property of the government of Botswana since the GPC and &Beyond are operating in are not privately owned areas but leased concessions.


Sort of. They will come into Botswana and supplement the national herd. See this as our collective donation to the people of Botswana and

their wildlife.


Which investor would want to invest his money in something which is subsequently given away. And no wonder the government of Botswana fully supports this initiative!


Yes, that is about right.


If the government of Botswana would truly support this initiative they would engage a scheme similar like the sable-for-rhino scheme again. Catch sable and other game species and exchange them for rhinos.


That was a crap idea. For government, why would you give away threatened or high value animals (roan in the previous case) when private sector wants to give you the rhinos anyway? That just shows stupidity, not commitment. The Government’s part of this is to protect these rhinos and trust me the burden of that is heavy.


From where are the rhino being sourced? Are they being donated or bought through auction?


A mixed bag of sources, but we do aim to target high poaching risk areas first, then secondary risk areas so we can ‘rescue’ rhinos.


What will be the proposed male vs female ratio?


This is being negotiated with sources and led by a team of scientists and conservationists.


What if they don't raise enough to bring 100, then they will bring none? Or…?


It’s a sliding scale. If we raise money for 200 we will bring them. If we raise less then we will bring those, too. If we can only raise money for one, then the scale of the effort implodes and it becomes too risky. There will be, as there always is, a risk of losing animals during the translocation. Science shows us that risk is about 8%. So risking 8 rhinos by moving 100 makes sense, especially against the present kill/poach rate where we lose 8 rhinos in 2.6 days. But that 8% risk increases the lower the shipment. So, if we move one and lose one by chance we will have done more harm than good. Scale of risk is what we are calling it. If, however, we raise $20M we will be moving 250 rhinos if we can find them.


Other questions which have arisen:


Why Botswana?


Well it is the safest most stable country in Africa. Botswana has lost fewer than 6 rhinos in 15 years to poaching. There is an active Botswana Defense Force that has 800 men allocated to protecting wildlife and finding poachers. The president himself is a fierce advocate for protecting rhinos, and was instrumental in the return and release of the first batch of about 40 around 2003. It has very few international entry points for poachers to use. The army has a shoot to kill policy for poachers. Jail terms are very high, 10 years for a rhino. We have a low human population, and a very high national pride that makes information about strangers quite easy to collect. We have very strong leadership that promises to stay this for another 5 years at least.


Will government play a role in safeguarding these animals?


Via the above mentioned Botswana Defense Force, but also via a Department of Wildlife anti poaching unit there are enough eyes on the ground in this case. But included in this budget is a section to introduce drone technology and light aircraft surveillance. We are also talking to international anti-poaching and military specialists to work side by side with government.


What are the potential issues that will affect their safety?


Every time one moves an animal it is subject to risk. Over dosage, getting banged up in transport are the worst and on average there is a 10% accident rate so we can expect to cause the deaths of up to 10 rhinos! But every precaution is being taken to limit that of course. Also when one moves a large batch of rhinos, the shipment itself may be vulnerable to being raided. We are engaging military and security guards for the transport. Lastly even in the field if Botswana is known for bringing in huge numbers of rhinos there is a chance of poaching increasing even here. However, we need to understand that we are moving them from a zone where they are bing killed at a rate of one every 8 hours to a zone (Botswana) where they are being killed at a rate of one every 3 years. There is a HUGE difference in the risk factors here, hence the reason to do this project.


Are there plans to dehorn or poison the horns?


We don’t believe in dehorning. Rhinos have horns for a reason, and Botswana has a healthy lion population where those horns will be important to them. We will consider poisoning. And each rhino will have a radio-transmitting anklet that will have both GPS and dead switches, so we will know where each rhino is and we will also be alerted as soon as it stops moving for a set time indicating death, and allowing a quick follow up.


Why not go to a few big donors instead?


We’re going to everyone. Again, this is not a GPC or &B effort, it’s a global effort to save threatened rhinos by moving them from a high-risk area to a low-risk area. The international border in between is just academic. Anyone can play. Anyone can donate or as I like to put it, invest in this project.


Why now?


Important question. If we don’t do something about this now, at the kill rate of one every 8 hours, in two years from now, rhinos will be under such threat they won’t be viable to move. Then, a loss to translocation of 8% would be a crime. And I don’t think we would find rhinos to move. In 5 or 10 years, (unless our efforts are successful), each remaining rhino may have a well-armed guard on it, as is the case in some parts of Kenya, and I would not take that job for anything then. Now is the time for the industry to step up and support something wholesome, not cynically, not out of despair. This is the last hope for rhinos.



The views expressed therein are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Safaritalk.




Press release from the Great Plains Foundation - www.greatplainsfoundation.com



Great Plains Conservation has committed alongside industry partners to undertake a relocation of rhinos on a magnitude never done before – to relocate no less than 100 rhino from South Africa to safe havens in Botswana.


By mid-2015, this relocation operation will take place with an assertive and elaborate anti-poaching force and strong commitment to save this species.


Our fundraising campaign, Zeros For Rhinos, will ensure this relocation initiative is a success; striving to rescue this treasured species from spiraling to extinction. What is gained is the knowledge that we all collectively stopped a species from meeting its maker. Great Plains Foundation, our non-profit partner, will raise the funds to do it, and every dollar counts.


As a fundraiser, Great Plains Conservation has contributed a limited number of safari bednights to the Great Plains Foundation. The cost of your stay in these three camps goes to the fundraising efforts of the Zeros for Rhinos initiative!


Guests can contribute directly to the Zeros for Rhinos fundraising effort by staying at any of the Selinda Reserve, Botswana, camps - Zarafa, Selinda or Selinda Explorers camps - an exclusive way of experiencing Africa while contributing to this tremendous initiative! Included in this limited offer are value-add surprises in camp. Valid for new bookings made through the Great Plains Foundation for stays between now and 31 May 2014 and 1 November 2014 to 31 May 2015"

Can't come on safari? We'll miss you, but you can still contribute to the Zeros for Rhinos campaign. Any amount counts and matters - $10 from many people will very quickly add up.

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