A Kenyan grassroots initiative, Walk With Rangers, has spoken out against the controversial rhino auction held by the Dallas Safari Club that saw the highest bidder, Mr. Corey Knowlton, cough up a staggering US$350 000 to hunt an endangered black rhino in Namibia.
“The sum is pittance compared to the value of our wildlife,” says Raabia Hawa, an honorary game warden with the Kenya Wildlife Service and founder of the Walk With Rangers initiative.
Ms. Hawa has published an open letter to Mr. Knowlton, expressing sadness at the threats he has received in heated debates on online forums. The open letter also addresses the conservation values of old rhinos which Mr. Knowlton contradicts in referring to the rhino as ‘too old to breed’ and deeming it valueless. Her views on this have been backed by world- reknowned wildlife biologist and documentary host, Ian Redmond.
Other conservationists speaking out through the initiative are Kuki Gallman, who has cited her personal 40 years of experience working with wild rhinos in Africa.
The initiative will be presenting a petition to Mr. Knowlton and the Dallas Safari Club signed by rangers and conservationists from the field in the coming few weeks, saying they are frustrated that the voices of those who really are saving species to the point of risking their lives, are too often ignored.
The open letter is available to read below. Walk With Rangers is an initiative that will launch in June 2014 aimed at raising awareness and funds to further enhance anti-poaching operations on the ground. The initiative is in collaboration with the Kenya Wildlife Service and its Tanzanian counterpart.
From a wildlife warden to a trophy hunter.
Dear Mr. Corey Knowlton,
I hope this letter finds you and your family well in light of recent developments surrounding the Namibian black rhino hunt auction.
Mr. Knowlton, I had only just returned from anti-poaching patrols when I opened up Facebook and saw the flurry of posts and comments mentioning your name. I did not comment until a few days later (please see your page inbox) as I felt I really needed to understand this situation better.
I have watched several of your interviews and would like to start by apologizing for what your family must be enduring, I know how important family is and you must feel terribly threatened. Please do convey my apologies to your wife, and your children on behalf of myself and the scouts I just spent two weeks with fighting poachers and illegal loggers.
Sir, please know that we are protectors of life, not just because we are rangers and scouts, but because we are human. We must only take that which is sustainable and in a way that will not bring harm to the delicate balance of nature. This is our way, the way of true Africa.
Sir, I have struggled to understand why SCI and DSC continue to put prices on the heads of our wildlife. It is laughable that they even think they have any right. The wildlife of a nation remains the sovereign property of its people. Would this not mean then, sir, that privatizing such public property would, in fact, be a gross violation of the rights of the African people? I will let you ponder over that for a while.
We are in the wake of a crisis that has gripped our region. Poachers have decimated our herds, and Africa is no longer teeming with wildlife. You kind sir, have been duped into believing that your hunt will aid conservation in Africa.
It will not. Aside from gaining Namibia huge disrepute, it will go against the very fiber of what we are trying so hard to achieve – the protection and true management of our last wild things. It is also imperative to note here that local African communities do not eat rhino meat. Please ask Mr. Carter of DSC to stop shaming our people and insulting your intelligence.
Initially when questioned on the hunt, the response resonated ‘support for conservation and anti-poaching’ with specific focus angling towards ‘better training and equipping rangers.’ Mr. Knowlton, let me assure you that this is most discourteous and rather insulting. Is this what SCI and DSC have reduced the value of our wildlife to? A few boots and uniforms?
Please sir, I plead with you to understand what we are facing. Exactly a year and some days ago now, my colleague and good friend was shot by poachers. He stood right in between a rhino they were targeting. He took the bullet for the rhino. He didn’t ask it’s age, he didn’t ask if it was a breeding bull, he didn’t ask if it was male or female, white or black. He just saw poachers, and a rhino, and did what he knew he had to do. THAT, kind sir, is true conservation, management and protection that will ensure the survival of our precious rhino species.
By now you must think I’m just ‘another one of those bunny hugging antis’ and I am fully cognizant that you are probably not seeing any ‘conservation value’ in my words. So I will share with you the following;
“In forty years of close association with black rhinoceros, I have NEVER known of a free ranging wild old male past his breeding period targeting, and killing, rhino females and calves but, rather, the odd fights have only, in my own experience, occurred amongst breeding competing males, as is common in other species.
In Africa old age is respected: by extension, it is un-African and basically unethical not to allow an old male that sired many calves a peaceful retirement, in the same way as breeding bulls in the cattle world are put out to pasture, not sent to the butcher, once they stop being productive. It is equally unethical to use two sets of measures for poachers, who shoot a wild animal for financial gain, and are arrested or shot, and for a wealthy legal hunter who can pay a fortune for the pleasure to kill it, and is congratulated instead? In both cases a dead endangered animal is the end product. This auction is cruel, ill-timed, and to be condemned.
If the person bidding to shoot the rhino bull has that spare cash available, why not DONATE it to the cause and leave the poor rhino alone? The old rhino does not deserve a bullet.
- Kuki Gallmann; Conservationist, author, founder of The Gallmann Memorial Foundation and honorary game warden.”
Sir, we on the field do not understand the logic in this matter. For us, every single one is absolutely critical to the survival of the species, to the sustainable development of the ecosystem they are a part of, and most of all, to the well being and protection of our culture and heritage.
You seem to be a pragmatic man, which is why I’m writing to you. I note your concerns for your family and hope you see our concerns as conservationists and protectors of those we love as our own, the wildlife our friends have fallen trying to protect (I’m also quite sure my colleague would have taken the bullet if you were on the other end of the gun instead of a poacher).
Hunting never has been, and probably never will be, in the true interest of the African people or nations. I appeal to you to spend some time with us to see this for yourself. It is not conservation, and the government officials that continue to allow such ‘fun hunts’ on endangered and critical species, must be ashamed. Indeed they know our great herds are gone, and the more this continues, the more we will fall into the abyss of misery and I’m sure, kind sir, that you do not wish such a ferociously merciless fate for us.
Mr. Knowlton, as I write this I am reading the news from neighboring Tanzania. Poachers have killed one black rhino, and now there are just 35 remaining. Do you think perhaps that DSC would be willing to use the us$350 000 you gave them in good conservation faith, to do a translocation? I know the ‘old bull past breeding’ excuse was thrown around, but I share with you the sensible words of Dr. Ian Redmond, a world-renowned and respected conservationist and biologist, “An old male self-evidently has a good immune system and may carry the genes giving immunity to the next epidemic which might kill some apparently stronger young males. In such circumstances an older male might resume breeding and pass on those important genes.”
Words worth considering don’t you think?
Wildlife protectors and conservationists don’t usually get to air our views Mr. Knowlton, rangers are too busy on the field, protecting wildlife and often don’t have access to world news. I see SCI and DSC have taken full advantage of this, which isn’t really fair.
You deserve a balanced view on this matter, so I will soon be sending you a petition, signed by conservationists and rangers from as many outposts as possible.
Again, I thank you for your time.
With respect and kind regards,
KWS Honorary Warden,
Founder, Walk With Rangers.