September 16, 2020

Rector’s eNews – 16 September 2020

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During the course of last week, I became aware through the Housemaster of West, Jonathan Smith, of the work of Drew and Luke Reynolds (in B and D Blocks respectively) and of their family in connection with a conservation project. The particular work for which they had volunteered and then enthusiastically engaged was assisting with the dehorning of a white rhino as a way of protecting this species which, as practically everybody will know, is endangered. The boys’ father, Lane Reynolds, indicated that the vet who had darted the animal had to use a chainsaw to dehorn it, having put earplugs into the rhino’s ears and a protective mask over its face. A close watch had to kept on the opioid sedative used which, I am told, is so strong that, if a man touches the area around the dart, it is enough to kill him.

The main purpose in dehorning is, quite obviously, to protect rhinos from poaching as the horn is valued to such an extent in a number of Asian countries that it sells for upwards of US $90 000/kilo. As most people also know, its supposed healing and other properties are imagined and not real as the horn, in essence, consists of keratin, the same protein found in human fingernails. After being dehorned, the animal wakes up in due course and walks off unaffected into the bush and is able, thereafter, to be more likely to survive the vicious onslaught of poachers who seek to hack out the horn without any regard for the wellbeing of the animal itself.

Simultaneously, I heard the news that an eminent South African veterinary surgeon, Dr William Fowlds, is due to speak at the Royal Geographical Society in London on the work he has done in the Eastern Cape in this field. William’s family own the Amakhala Lodge about halfway between Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown and he works in association with a friend of mine, Paul Gardiner, whose family previously owned Shamwari, as well as the actress, Virginia McKenna of the Born Free Association, in raising funds for the protection of rhinos in Africa. On probably the last occasion on which William spoke at the Royal Geographical Society in London in 2013, I was immensely proud, as a South African, to be part of the audience. 700 people rose as one to applaud him.

The importance of work with rhinos and other endangered wildlife species cannot be underestimated. The WWF has indicated that wildlife is in freefall and that animal populations have fallen by more than ⅔rds in less than 50 years and this is backed by the Zoological Society of London which has recently also drawn attention to the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of how nature and humans have a fragile inter-relationship.

There is, however, some optimistic news in that the television presenter and naturalist, Sir David Attenborough, has demonstrated that gorillas in Rwanda have staged a remarkable recovery over the past 40 years since he first visited that area as a result of careful conservation. Some of the offspring of older gorillas can even be recognised from their parents or grandparents. The gorilla population is now actually doing rather well and, what Attenborough saw in 1980, has been turned around. Let us hope that the same can be done with rhino and other similarly endangered species such as elephants.

I am writing to bring to the attention of parents and others the importance of conservation once again – of protecting lands and forests, of reducing soil degradation, of restoring marine ecosystems, of protecting lake and river habitats and similar projects. In the 17 years during which my family and I lived very happily in the UK, one of the aspects of South Africa which we missed most was the apparently abundant game here. In many cases, this is just on our doorstep currently, but it won’t be here for the next generation unless we play a role in protecting it.

Not everybody can be involved with the complex action of dehorning a rhino, but we can all play a role in the conservation of this country by recycling more actively than most of us do and in other simple ways. I was most heartened to see, as I was going up to visit the C Block Journey on Saturday, a number of people out between Balgowan and Nottingham Road with plastic bags as there was a concerted effort to collect all the litter over that 10km stretch to safeguard and uplift the environment. This was a reminder to me of the fact that each of us can play a role, however small, in conservation. Something to think about.

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