John Hanks and Philip Fourie

Rhino Poaching Talk

At Botsoc’s AGM held on 18 July

The Kogelberg Branch of the Botanical Society of South Africa held its annual general meeting on Saturday 18 July 2015 in the Nivenia Hall of the Harold Porter Botanic Garden. Two of our directors, Philip Fourie and Fanie Krige, attended and were once again impressed with the solid administrative and financial foundation of this organisation. One of the most remarkable achievements of Botsoc, as it is commonly known, was the publication during the past year of a very informative guide for living in the Kogelberg area, namely Your Place in the Kogelberg by Tim Atwell. This book can be ordered from our office at only R120 per copy excluding postage.

The highlight of the evening, however, was a talk by environmentalist doyen John Hanks on why it is so difficult to put a stop to rhino poaching, in fact all forms of poaching, in Africa. Philip Fourie bought his book and and shares his views on it with us.

REVIEW | “Operation Lock and the War on Rhino Poaching

by John Hanks. Penguin Books, 2015. 300 pages, R250.

John Hanks and Philip Fourie
John Hanks and Philip Fourie

As Nicky Oppenheimer says in his foreword, “This is a timely book”. Given the worldwide focus on rhino poaching, the vast amounts of money and the numbers of people involved, there is no doubt that the book is essential reading and that the title is appropriate. However, there is much more to the book than rhino poaching, as anyone interested in nature conservation in all its aspects will agree.

In Chapter I the author mentions two formative events which took place during his last school year in 1961: he read Serengeti shall not die, by Bernhard Grzimek, and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) was launched. He was accepted by Magdalene College in Cambridge, to read for a Natural Sciences Tripos majoring in Zoology, but before starting was able to fit in nine months working as a volunteer in Africa under the aegis of the WWF (of which he became International Projects Manager in 1985).

He studied under Roger Short, a reproductive biologist with a special interest in elephants (which Short attributed to having the story by Rudyard Kipling, “The elephant’s child”, read to him by his mother). He did a PhD on the reproductive physiology of the African elephant in the Luangwe Valley, Zambia. He then went on to a number of posts throughout southern Africa, starting at the Kafue National Park in Zambia in 1965 and ending with the Natal Parks Board in 1975. During these years he became aware of the rising tide of poaching that was to devastate Africa’s wildlife, and also of the complicity of many corrupt politicians.

In 1985 he moved on to the international stage at WWF, and worked with many influential persons like Anton Rupert and Prince Bernhard of The Netherlands (known as PB). His portraits of these make fascinating reading. He became involved with the political and financial realities of conservation, and the ideological differences between the “pure” conservationists and those who believed that conservation and human development had to go hand in hand. He also realized the importance of Roger Short’s dictum that “human population growth is the transcending problem of our times”, a credo that Hanks has promoted over the years.

In 1988 the concept of “Operation Lock” was formulated. Briefly this was that the international syndicates that controlled and benefited from poaching could only be fought covertly. The decision to implement this led to the involvement of David Stirling, the legendary founder of the Special Air Service Regiment (SAS). The description of the operation takes up a large part of the book; the operation itself also influenced the author’s career, especially because of his later involvement with the South African government and some of its agencies. Readers of the book will realize that we have forgotten (sometimes conveniently) much of the political atmosphere and many of the events of the years before 1994. Suffice it to say that Operation Lock was highly controversial, and that he became the target of much ill-informed criticism.

Some of the most interesting reading comes towards the end. Chapters 15 to 17 describe the present situation concerning rhino conservation and give thought-provoking options for the future. Appendices I and II deal with CITES and TRAFFIC respectively and give essential information on the international trade in endangered species.

To sum up: this is an important book by an author describing his life’s work.

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  Vol 2, Issue 3 - September 2015
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