This wasn’t the blog post I had intended to write. I was planning a more upbeat, positive-thinking piece, anchored around a book review. But no. Something happened in the news which I simply cannot ignore.
Yesterday, media reported on a break in at a zoo near Paris, France. Poachers had broken through one of the gates at Thoiry Zoo and shot one of their white rhinos three times in the head, before cutting off its horn with a chainsaw.
The four-year-old rhino, Vince, was kept alongside two other white rhinos; five-year-old Bruno and thirty-seven-year-old Gracie. Thankfully, this pair were found safe and healthy.
This is the first time in Europe that an animal in captivity has ever died at the hands of poachers.
This is horrifying.
I know this post has no coastal theme, but I’m of the strong belief that all animals (ourselves included) are equal and I was so outraged and upset at hearing this news, that I felt compelled to write about it. I’ve already written about the threat to dolphins in Taiji, and the huge and often unspoken threats to sharks, but I can’t ignore the threat which also faces some of our most beautiful animals on land.
In 2010, I took part in an expedition to Kenya and spent a month in a country I had always dreamed of visiting. Anyone who knows me personally, will know that those four weeks had a profound influence on me as a person.
I did all sorts – climbed Mount Kenya, spent a fortnight at an orphanage meeting some amazing kids, spent an afternoon with women from the Maasai tribe, and went on numerous safaris with our local guides, who told us folk tales about the animals we saw.
I remember the thrill when I saw my first giraffe in the wild; when we spotted the ears of an elephant poking through the trees; and when we saw two rhinos in the distance with birds casually sitting on their backs. Nothing can beat seeing animals in their natural habitat.
At one of the wildlife reserves we visited, we stopped off at a hut which stood outside a fenced area. I remember walking up the steps of the hut, onto it’s balcony and looking down at a solitary rhino called Baraka.
Baraka was blind and I’m pretty sure his Mum had fallen foul of poachers. It was the first time I came close to an animal which had been in proximity to poachers; an animal which had lost a family member to nothing but human greed.
So when I read the news today that a captive rhino had been murdered by poachers who had broken into a zoo near a major European city, I thought back to Baraka and the rhinos I’d seen in the wild in Kenya.
I’m of the belief that animals are nearly always better off in the wild. But, when it comes to conserving future generations of some endangered species, I understand that keeping animals in captivity can sometimes help keep their numbers stable so we don’t lose them from our world altogether.
I thought that, although captivity isn’t ideal, at least it keeps these amazing creatures safe from poachers.
How wrong I was. How wrong we all were.
Let’s put this into perspective for a minute.
Rhino horns are particularly sought after in Asia, particularly China where they are believed to have aphrodisiac qualities. One horn can be sold on the black market for around £30,000. It’s no small sum.
The white rhinoceros is the second largest land mammal after the elephant – it was once on the brink of extinction but there are now around 20,000 living in the world. Their numbers are better than they once were, but they’re still classified by WWF as ‘near threatened’ and recent surges in poaching in some areas, particularly South Africa, mean they’re not safe yet.
But it’s not just rhinos. Elephants are suffering horrific deaths due to the demand for their tusks, and in some places in Africa, people who are trying to protect wildlife against poachers are actually losing their lives.
Myself and conservationists everywhere are hoping that this break-in in France is a freak incident. To sneak past security cameras, and break into a zoo where some staff members actually live shows just how much these poachers wanted the rhino horns. But surely something has gone terribly wrong in the world for anyone to think this is okay.
We will never rid the world of poaching until we get rid of the ridiculous demand for animal products like rhino horns.
It’s high time governments and those in charge around the world united and pressed on its people that we need to have a greater respect for the world around us. We share our planet with other animals – we have no greater right to life than they do.