As 2012 draws to a close, it is with heavy hearts that we reflect on the year. It is likely that we will have lost around 650 rhino when the new year comes....a growth in poaching of some 40-45% over the 2011 year. The anger that we all feel at this is fueling a passion to make sure that we redouble our efforts to protect and conserve rhino during 2013 and the years ahead.
Many may ask "how can you be confident of that when you are coming off the worst year of poaching in history?". Well, we simply have to
be...and we are. In a way, I think that 2012 will prove to be a turning point in our fight for rhino - a fight which has often not enjoyed the focus and support of
governments and the people of the world. I believe...I know, that has changed.
Lets take a look at a few indicators of this. Firstly, our own Department Of Environmental Affairs took very firm steps to tackle the problem. The appointment of Mr Msimang as the RIM manager, tasked with interacting with all role players in the exploration of solutions has led to a report being submitted to government. Now, we can perhaps all comment on governments past apathy to this issue and its lip-service....but this time it seems different with our DEA pressuring Vietnam to signature an MOU regarding poaching and illegal wildlife trade. Further evidence of our governments statement of commitment was the additional funding for Sanparks to fight poaching, as well as President Zuma addressing the issue at the recent ANC congress.
But perhaps more important than all of this, is the feeling in the streets of our towns and cities...the number of people of all races, ages, religions and sex that are stopping us and wishing us well - shaking our hands and thanking us for what we are doing. More than feeding our egos, these interactions tell us that South Africans are finally realizing that we cannot simply sit back and watch our wildlife heritage being decimated, stolen from beneath our noses by unscrupulous foreigners who also have not hesitated to kill those who chose to protect what is ours. There is an anger, a sense of moral outrage beginning to surface amongst all citizens of the world...and it is this that will galvanize greater political will to address the problem.
We have also been heartened and encouraged by the actions of the Government and Embassy of the United States to assist us in resolving the problem. The government of England has also been doing more than perhaps most people realize. We firmly believe that other European and world governments will follow in the months to come.
And what will SPOTS be doing in the year ahead ?. Well, we still believe that our major contribution is through direct action in the bush....where the animals need us most. We will continue to play whatever role we asked to in the halls of government and the efforts such as the RIM conferences etc....but, the major focus of our efforts must be where were the rhino roam.
We remain committed to re-starting our predator cat conservation efforts...focusing particularly on the canned lion hunting and lion bone trade.
Our work on the research and use of advanced technologies to assist us and all others in anti-poaching efforts must continue. Our hugely successful Air Ranger UAV program has proved that we need to ensure that anti-poaching efforts make use of state-of-the-art technology with which to wage the war against poaching.
SPOTS will continue to focus maximum effort on the Kruger National Park, particularly in our efforts to have our Rapid Deployment UAV capability, which is very different to the solutions which Denel bring, playing a major role in the response to both pre and post event actions and operations.
The logic behind our focus on Kruger is simple....we have to win Kruger, it is the biggest challenge the species faces and Kruger has lost way more rhino than any other area/reserve - it is the heartland of our wildlife heritage, one of the wonders of the natural world. How can we sleep while it is being decimated?
SPOTS will also focus increasingly on the reserves surrounding Kruger. We have been very heartened by recent discussions in this regard, the strategies and action plans that surround this endeavor. Again, our Air Ranger UAV capability will play a major role in these efforts and resulting operations.
We are continuously enhancing and augmenting our capability...we keep on attracting the right people who bring vital energy and commitment to us. We continue to have
"the clever guys" research and source the best technology with which to aid our efforts...and we are confident that certain of these technologies are going to be making
a major difference in the near future.
Whilst this road that we have chosen to walk has often been lonely, frustrating and even disheartening, our SPOTS resolve remains as strong as ever. And so often, when at our lowest points, we are encouraged by the actions of those around us. I wish to share two stories that will forever stand as examples...and to which I often turn.
One very cold morning, I stopped at a store to collect some supplies. When I walked out of the store, I was met at the Land Rover by an elderly man. He clearly was not wealthy and his clothes seemed to afford him little warmth against the wind. He asked me about the branding on the Landy...about SPOTS and what we do. He then took a ten rand note out of his pocket, pressed it into my hand and said "please use this to do whatever you can to protect our rhino....it is not much, but I hope it can help in some way". Oom Dirk, wherever you are....I thank you every day.
On another occasion, some people in a coffee shop had been watching us and had maybe overheard some of our conversation. When we got up to leave, the elderly husband and wife came over to us and asked whether we would allow them to pray for us. So there we stood, in a busy but absolutely silent coffee shop with two complete strangers holding our hands and praying for our safety and success.
To all of you out there who have supported us, who encourage us in many different ways, please know that we appreciate your support more than we can ever show. Your efforts, your determination to get world opinion and effort focused on the resolution of this problem is as important, if not more, than ours.
To those of you, who have assisted us with urgently needed finances, equipment and resources....our sincere thanks. Please know that we will never let you down....that it is our firm intention and commitment to win for our rhino.
To all of you and your families, from the African bush we send best wishes for a blessed Christmas and a wonderful 2013.
And if you can, please whisper best wishes for our rhino into the breeze as the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve.
With sincere regards and on behalf of all at SPOTS,