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Extinction Crisis: Can we save Africa's Rhinos?

Monday 25 November 2019
This event is free and accessible to students, staff, alumni and external relations of Leiden University.
Anna van Buerenplein
Anna van Buerenplein 301
2595 DG The Hague
Auditorium, LUC The Hague

South Africa is custodian to more than three-quarters of the world’s rhinos. Over the past five years, 5,279 rhinos have been killed in South Africa alone for their horns. This represents a rate of one rhino poached every 8 hours. Conservationists generally agree that the wild populations of white and black rhino have surpassed the “tipping point” and are now in decline.

The demand for rhino horn comes from Vietnam and China where it is used in medicine as a fever reducer, as a detox agent, in high-end jewelry and libation cups, as well as gift status. Horns are also considered a sign of wealth and power. This has created an insatiable demand for rhino horn and there appears to be no end in sight to the crisis.

In 2014, Dr. Mike Slattery, Director of the Institute for Environmental Studies at TCU, founded the TCU Rhino Initiative. A native of South Africa, Mike felt compelled to do something in response to the crisis and teamed up with Dr. William Fowlds, world-renowned wildlife vet and rhino conservationist at the Amakhala Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Together, TCU and Amakhala now work with nine other private game reserves in the region, as well as several NGOs, all collaborating in species and habitat management, education and awareness, advanced protection systems, law enforcement, and community-based, socioeconomic alternatives to poaching.

Since 2014, our involvement in the Eastern Cape has confirmed that, while law enforcement plays a crucial role in deterring poachers, there appears to be no single answer to combat the current poaching crisis. A multi-faceted approach is required including ongoing anti-poaching and monitoring patrols, community conservation and environmental education schemes, captive breeding, translocations, and demand reduction projects in Asia. I argue that a key component to the protection of rhino (and wildlife in general) involves furthering the socio-economic aspirations of the region by recruiting the active participation of local communities in wildlife conservation. Their involvement is especially critical in rhino protection, because the vast majority of poaching incidents can be linked to these communities. Thus, one solution to the poaching crisis would be to make people in the communities adjacent to protected areas responsible for the future of South Africa’s wildlife. Community-based education and training programs are the most powerful way to create long-term, sustainable benefits. Finally, I argue that we must ensure that the trade of rhino horn is not legalized.

About Professor Mike Slattery

Prof. Mike Slattery is Professor and Chair of the Department of Environmental Sciences and Director of the Institute for Environmental Studies at Texas Christian University. He has written 95 scientific articles and published five editions of the book Contemporary Environmental Issues. His teaching and research focuses on human impacts on the environment, including the impact of dams on large-scale river systems, the socio-economic and ecological impacts of utility-scale wind power development, air pollution and modelling, and rhino poaching in South Africa. In 2007, Mike testified before the U.S. Congress on mercury contamination from coal-fired power plants and serves on the editorial boards of the Annals of the Association of American Geographers and AIMS Energy. He has worked in diverse landscapes ranging from the Namib Desert in southern Africa to the cloud forests of Costa Rica where, in 2008, he established a tropical research station. In 2014, he launched the TCU Rhino Initiative, a collaboration with several private game reserves and NGOs in the Eastern Cape of South Africa focused on species and habitat management, education and awareness, advanced protection systems, and community-based, socioeconomic alternatives to poaching. This initiative received the Senator Paul Simon Spotlight Award in 2017 from Association of International Educators in recognition of this global work. Mike lives with his family in Fort Worth.

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