Tourism can help fight poachers. “Do you know the difference between a white and black rhino?” At Kenya’s Solio Conservancy wildlife park, Dr. Felix Patten looks around the circle of schoolchildren from under his cap in amusement.
The children receive a “Rhino Awareness course” and get to name two newborn rhino babies.
With this initiative, Kenya is drawing attention to the dire situation of the rhino. Indeed, Africa loses a rhino every 8 hours, and 2 species of the prehistoric-looking behemoth are threatened with extinction.
National and international press were invited to attend the launch of the Rhino Awareness campaign in the Rift Valley region this summer. An exciting day for the children from the nearby village of Muiga, as well as for Kinza (Arabic for “treasure” or treasure) and Kent – as the two newborn rhino babies are called as of today.
“Dr. Felix” joins the children in the private game park to search for the baby rhinos, and manages to track down Kent and his mother. “Kenya is home to about 15 percent of the world’s rhinos, much of which can be found on Solio Conservancy’s 6,900 hectares.”
On the savannas of Solio, the black and white rhinoceros are joined by lions, leopards, giraffes, baboons, buffalo and countless other species.
A park near here also houses 4 of the 7 northern white rhinos remaining in the world. With IVF or the creation of a subbreed, we are trying to preserve this breed for the future,” says the ‘rhino expert’.
The tour guide told us.
The tour guide drivers of Rhino Watch safari know Solio’s animal kingdom like the back of their hand, are unparalleled sharp at “spotting” wildlife and enthusiastically convey their boundless knowledge. But rhino baby Kinza is not showing today.
Bonuses and drones against poaching
“The black rhino is more difficult to track,” says Frank Wirth of Rhino Awareness and Protection and Rhino Watch Safaris, Kenya. “Unlike its white counterpart, it does not eat grass, but leaves of bushes behind which Kinza can hide well.
And the black rhino lives in solitary while the white one lives in groups. As a result, it also falls more easily into the hands of poachers,” Wirth immediately cuts to the rhino’s biggest threat.
“Kenya only has 650 black rhinos left, and that number is declining at a rapid pace. The white rhino is also threatened; no rhino is safe. In 2013, 59 rhinos in Kenya were killed by poachers and this year the tally is already at 20.
When another victim fell in Solio late last year, I felt helpless; how can we protect the rhino? The park is electrically fenced and at night there is guarding by rangers. In Kenya, every possible form of protection is being explored, from dyeing the horns to flying drones to detect poachers.
We were the first country in Africa to tighten our laws; instead of a fine, poachers now face the risk of 15 years to life in prison. But demand for rhino horn continues to rise.
Poachers take the risk of harsher penalties because they receive $150,000 for a poached rhino. The value on the market is more than double for an average horn. Even for “inside” tipsters, the temptation is sometimes too great.
Since January, I have been giving my employees a monthly bonus if no rhino has been killed. Since then, there has been no poaching at Solio. We are also investing a lot in raising awareness and educating the local people.
And the children who are here today return regularly to watch the rhino babies grow up. If the ‘locals’ build a bond with the rhino, they may be less likely to give in to big money.”
Fighting Asian Demand
“The most important thing we can do now is fight the demand for rhino products,” Dr. Felix Patten argues. “The traditional market for rhino powder for Chinese medicine has all but disappeared since the Chinese ban in 1993. The biggest demand now comes from Vietnam, experiencing hefty economic growth.
Vietnamese high society uses rhino powder at parties because the powder is said to cleanse the body of the adverse effects of alcohol and drugs. It is a respected status symbol there.
Luckily, the Vietnamese government has recently officially denied the healing effects of rhino powder, so that’s another step in the right direction,” Patten explains.
He shows some ads in which Asian celebrities as role models appeal to the conscience of rhino powder users.”
It’s all about awareness, sharing the message as much as possible, and reducing demand so the world can continue to enjoy this big, gentle giant in the future.”
Best of both worlds
Fell asleep to the nightly roar of a lion and wake up among elephants? Or taking a selfie with a buffalo, leopard or rhino? Many people dream of an encounter with the Big Five, and the so-called Game Resorts respond to this with an extensive range of safaris. Large parks, meanwhile, are surrounded by high-rise hotels and heavy traffic.
But Kenya likes to see safari tourists coming; for the economy, but also for wildlife conservation. Indeed, alternative parks show that tourism and conservation can go well together.
They treat the environment and animals sustainably and admit a limited number of tourists. It does not diminish the experience of the safari, quite the contrary.
Tourism can help fight poachers
In Samburu park on the red banks of the Ewaso Nyero River, elephants follow their steady path to the river six meters from your terrace. And the sunrise at the flower-filled Rhino Watch Safari Lodge at the foot of Mount Kenya, the only mountain on the equator with eternal snow, has been described as “the closest thing to heaven.”
In Aberdare Park you imagine yourself 3 kilometers above sea level in the Scottish Highlands while at the bottom of the mountain a herd of elephants feasts on bamboo and the endless greenery of the rainforest.
Alternative parks pay a lot of attention to training tour guide drivers and educating tourists, as well as research so that science and tourism can reinforce each other.
You’ll find the same unprecedentedly rich treasure of animals, while contributing to the conservation and protection of the wildlife diversity that makes Kenya so colorful.