Rhinos – when my heart is a lonely hunter

full frontal rhino I imagine you may be wondering why I chose this title for this post. I will get to that later. Let me first tell you about my day and what spurred this post on in the first place.

I saw a video today of a rhino that had been shot in the spine (what is known as the anchor shot, which immobilises the animal so it cannot move, but yet is still capable of feeling the pangas and saws that chop into its head). It then had its face essentially cut off while it sat there in agony, unable to even try to get away. The poachers had hacked away so much of the face that you could actually see the tongue THROUGH the thin layer of pulpy mush that was left of the nasal cavity.  I am sparing you the pictures and the videos, though to be honest, I would almost LIKE for you to see this creature in its miserable state, not because I am mean, but because if you have any semblance of decency in you, you can’t see something like this and not immediately get fired up to help.

This animal suffered horrifically and for a long time before it finally died.

I thought I was going to throw up while watching the video, not because of the gruesomeness of the images (though I’ve never in my life seen anything so awful), but because of the utter disgust I felt at the people (those on the ground and those funding it) capable of doing something so profoundly evil and cruel. I have seen poaching first hand via working with the wild dogs and cheetah. It is gut wrenching and soul destroying to see how base humans can be. Rhinos, elephants, pangolins (which most people reading this post have probably never even heard of), the list goes on and on.

The illegal wildlife trade is massive, and it touches every part of this planet and its people. Everyone wants to blame the Chinese (and by all means, please do – they are huge offenders in this situation), but you know what? There are Americans, Europeans, South Americans, Middle Easterners, Africans, etc, ALSO fueling the trade – by buying the products made from these animals, they are aiding and abetting these atrocious acts of violence. It seems as though NO country on this planet is exempt. And, as such, it is EVERY country’s responsibility to get involved.

Please, do not sit back and play armchair politics. Get off your butt and find a way to help the cause. I know many people care. But caring gets you nowhere if you do nothing. We are getting dangerously close to ‘caring’ these creatures into oblivion because we talk and talk and talk, but so few of us do the actual walking.  “Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.” Everyone can make a positive impact and save not just the rhino, but ALL the species that are in danger of disappearing off the face of the earth. And they can save the people who are literally putting themselves in the line of fire every single day to protect these creatures.

We have this vast resource called the internet at our fingertips, where we can research hundreds of ways we can play a valuable part in this fight. If you’re reading this, you have a resource in me. I can help to direct you to places you can donate to, things you can do, etc. Just ask.

If you live in South Africa, pick up a MyPlanet Rhino Fund card. It costs you nothing, and every time you swipe it, the vendor donates a percentage of your purchase to help with rhino conservation efforts. This is just one simple step you can take. You can make a difference. Please, please, please do.

As for the title of this post, it may seem odd given the subject matter, but I use this title (which I admit I swiped from a book by Carson McCullers) because some days I do feel like a lone soldier out there on a very large battlefield, hoping against all hope that I can somehow save the wildlife (and, by extension, the world) I so desperately love. Often I feel as though my one little heart is all by itself in this mission, and that it isn’t enough, and that I can’t do enough. One single soul of hope standing against an ever-rising tide comprised of complacency, ignorance, corruption and greed. I frequently feel like my heart is going to burst because of how deeply I feel this intense pain and suffering humans have caused the creatures involved in the illegal wildlife trade. (And those targeted for trophy hunting, but that’s for another post.) I wish I were exaggerating. But I’m not. This whole situation actually hurts my heart.

I also often hear so many people SAY they care, but then they do nothing about it. I know so many people who are aware of the issue with rhino and elephant poaching, for example, but who have done nothing to help combat it. And I can’t understand it. Why?

I know there is a lot of suffering in this world. I know there are so many worthy causes, and that it’s hard to know what to donate your efforts to (be it time, money, emotion, whatever). But the fact of the matter is, without wildlife, we have nothing. And that is the God’s honest truth. The rhino is not just iconic species. It is a keystone species, “a species whose very presence contributes to the existence of the ecosystem in which it lives.” And the rhino is just one of many.

And you know what? Even if a species ISN’T a keystone species, it has incredible valuable, because everything on this planet exists in balance, and that balance is precarious at best. When one thing gets thrown off, we teeter ever closer to tumbling down into an abyss that we can’t crawl out of. Money won’t save us when the lifeblood that keeps us in existence is gone. And we’re running headlong towards the edge of that abyss. The rhino situation is just one example.

Here are the recent rhino stats, if you’re interested: http://www.savetherhino.org/rhino_info/poaching_statistics

I’ve held off on writing about rhino because even though I had so much to say about them (and about the poaching crisis), I couldn’t seem to articulate all the thoughts and emotions going through my head. I still can’t. But today I simply cannot help myself. What I saw actually caused me to sob, unable to control the fountain of emotions I’ve held back for years while working with these and so many other amazing creatures. I truly felt I had to sit down and purge my feelings onto the page. So here it is, in black and white.

There is a quote from Chief Seattle that made a tremendous impact on me as a little girl. It will forever be embedded in my brain. I can only hope that people read this and not only take its words to heart, but also commit it to memory, share it with others, and act on it:

“This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

We can’t do everything, but we can all do at least one thing to make a positive impact. I ask that you choose to take an active part in protecting these and all the other incredible species on this earth. Out of respect for the anonymity of the animals and the people putting themselves out there to protect them, I’m not going to post a big gallery of photos. Yes, it might seem extreme and you may be thinking, “How many people do you actually think are reading this?” but that’s not the point. Even though I’ve limited the tagging on them, each photo has meta tags embedded in it indicating where the photo was taken. I would like to protect the location of as many of these animals as possible. The sad thing is, I have no idea how many (if any) are still alive.


All rights reserved. ©2015 Jennifer Vitanzo

Categories: Africa | Leave a comment

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