Hope in the shape of a horn

By Jenna Lillie

Rhodes Rhino Week, which took place from 14 to 18 May, was vital in posing change to an increasing tragedy affecting rhinos. Throughout the week, events were centred on the global issue of poaching, and the action our student community can have on the amount of exposure it demands. Dr William Fowlds, wildlife veterinarian and co-owner of Amakhala, gave a presentation titled “Thandi´s Incredible Recovery” on Tuesday 15 May at Eden Grove Blue to an audience of over 60 people. He used his expertise and personal experience to illustrate how far we have come since rhino poaching became too frequent a headline in the newspapers.

The talk shed light on the current state of Thandi, one of the rhino’s who survived a poaching attack. The evening commenced with Fowlds explaining the problem in terms of why rhinos are the targets of such cruelty. He emphasised how Rhodes as a united force can bring awareness through various channels. Students have banded together in order to do just that, gaining over 700 signatures in the Wildlife Petition so far.

However,  Fowlds made a deeply disconcerting point which tackles the issue of the importance of support and not limiting ourselves to our community awareness but also reaching worldwide coverage. “Rhino poaching is a symptom of the disease,” explained Fowlds, “our environment needs to be preserved for future generations but apathy is becoming a danger to this cause.” Rhodes students have the privilege of access to various resources and social networks. Fowlds suggested students lend a hand  by putting in the time and effort to spread the news through posts on Facebook, tweeting, blogging, drawing or writing poetry. Fowlds recommended that we must be sure to never stop talking about this cause, “I’m sure if they could talk,” said Fowlds, referring to the rhinos, “they would appreciate your help.”

The story of each rhino that has been affected by poaching and has either died or suffered, explained Fowlds, was not in vain.  “The fight of Themba has given us hope and opportunity to gain invaluable coverage that will bring global awareness,” he said. Themba’s tragic death has resulted in major coverage, including that of America network NBC, to bring exposure to these crimes.

“We need to face this like a war,” explained Fowlds, “every single person can make a difference”. The various avenues of campaigning and bringing awareness to poaching have been investigated by Fowlds and countless supporters of this cause. Modified legislation, increased protection within reserves and public appearances have put rhino poaching firmly on the map, and such exposure has put pressure on global governments to rethink their legislation.
“This is a critical time for conservation,” says Fowlds, “students are resourceful and by sowing seeds into the university, change will follow”.

According to him, hope is still alive and well in the form of survivor Thandi, whose physical wounds are in the process of healing. Almost two months after her attack she stands as a symbol of perseverance.  Thandi’s life may have changed forever but through it we hope she changes others.  Fowlds will be travelling to Beijing in June to gain an understanding of the market for rhino horns, and hopes to spread anti-poaching ideals to the region.

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