Wits students who care about the country’s rhino poaching crisis can contribute in a number of ways.
“There are some student organisations that address these kinds of issues, for instance, Roots and Shoots and the BioSoc,” said Prof Kevin Balkwill, Head of the Department of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences.
“This is one way for students to become involved. Otherwise, there are more formal initiatives around Wits Rural Facility and Pullen Farm, two of Wits’ rural properties, where students can become involved in conservation issues.”
The situation for the country’s rhinos is grave. A total of 52 rhinos have been dehorned since the beginning of 2012 in South Africa’s game reserves, Wanda Mkutshulwa, Head of Communications at SANParks, revealed in a statement on February 3.
Two more rhino carcasses were found by tourists in the Kruger National Park on Tuesday this week, according to a statement released by Mr William Mabasa, Head of Public Relations and Communications at the Kruger National Park. The poachers are still at large.
Balkwill said many projects at Wits had conservation goals or applications. One way to make a difference was through postgraduate study. A Wits honours student was due to contribute to the development of an Integrated Management Plan for the establishment of the Bushbuckridge Nature Reserve.
He also suggested that the Wits Volunteer Programme could be broadened to encompass environmental and conservation issues.
Dr Jo Shaw, a Wits PhD graduate, now working at Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, suggested students interested in participating in conservation could start by raising funds.
“There are 150 organisations actively involved in ‘saving rhinos’ in South Africa now. If you want to get involved, go for one of the larger organisations with a scientific advisory board who ensure that your money is well spent.”
“As of the last estimates at December 31, 2010, there were 18 796 white rhinos and 1 916 black rhinos in South Africa,” she said, “At current poaching rates, rhino populations in South Africa are anticipated to begin to decline in 2015 or 2016.”
The issue was much larger than poaching, Shaw said. “There has also been a dramatic increase in rhino horn trophy exports to Asian hunters and an increase in thefts from rhino horn stockpiles and museums. All sources of rhino horn are under threat.”
The number of rhino deaths has been on the increase as early as 2006. As many as 448 rhinos were shot in 2011.