17 May 2016

US philanthropist Ed Warner on helping save black rhinos

From Nine To Noon, 10:10 am on 17 May 2016

Ed Warner is a US philanthropist who made his fortune in pioneering  hydraulic facturing (fracking) to access gas reserves in Wyoming, who is now working to save critically endangered black rhinos in sub-Saharan Africa.

His new book Running with Rhinos outlines his adventures with the solitary - and very dangerous - animals, as well as the people working to save them.

Three out of five rhinoceros species are critically endangered because they are illegally hunted for their horns which are sold on the black market in Vietnam in China where they're perceived as having medicinal qualities.

In South Africa alone, three or more rhino are killed illegally every day with poachers becoming more sophisticated, using veterinarians, sedatives and helicopters to hunt their lucrative prey.

Read an editied snapshot of Kathryn Ryan's conversation with Ed Warner

KR: What have we don’t the rhino population? What sorts of numbers are they down to now?

EW: About 115 years ago there were at least half a million white rhinos and black rhinos in sub-Saharan n Africa, and today we’re down to probably 15,000 – 12,000 white rhinos and 3000-5000 black rhinos

KR: Where are those populations that are still of any numbers?

EW: The best protected and largest populations are in Namibia, in South Africa, In Zimbabwe and East Africa in Kenya.

KR: Where are the markets for rhino products that have contributed to the decimation of their numbers?

EW: Follow the money – rhino horn is valued by Asians, primarily Chinese and Vietnamese. To such an amount that there’s rhino horn that is actually traded for more than gold…. It’s absurd by the way, rhino horn is something like a cross between our fingernails and your hair, it’s Keratin, that's all it is. It has no medicine qualities whatsoever, this is a cultural problem where years and years ago -  and don’t get me wrong I think Chinese medicine has a lot going for it, that there is a lot of value to it – but in this case this was a rare commodity that was added to Chinese medicine because it was rare. And when there were very very few rich Chinese it wasn’t a problem, but now there are a lot of rich Chinese it’s more of a problem.

KR: When we look at the economics driving this trade how does it work? Who are the poachers and how does the supply chain work?

EW: It’s a really interesting dilemma, I do believe that we need to incentivise native peoples so that animals are more valuable alive than dead. But when you talk about US$68,000 for a rhino horn, how can you make a rhino more valuable alive than dead?

It’s actually a really difficult problem. There are so few of them so even if you had a trophy hunting trade that raised money for conservation  –   the one rhino shot that I know of was put up as a donation and that went for $US340,000 – but rhino horns are going to be poached out of existence because they’re perceived to be so valuable. I think in this case education is the way. I think that we need to education the young generations of Asian [people] to love nature and the understand that they can’t ceaselessly exploit nature.