Bergvliet game ranger on a mission to save rhino

KAREN WATKINS

A child born today will see the last wild elephants and rhinos die before their 25th birthday. This was the statement made this week by Karmenu Vella, the European Union Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs.

It is for this reason that Daniel Fenton of Bergvliet is raising awareness about saving rhinos.

After matriculating from Bergvliet High School, Daniel, 22, went on to train as a game ranger and is now working for the AndBeyond group.

He is also a proudly 1st Bergvliet Scout and achieved his Springbok Scout award early in his matric year.

A keen sportsman at school and a lover of the outdoors, he believes it is this combination that led him into a career in conservation.

He now spends most days taking small groups of tourists on game drives at Ngala Private Game Reserve on the boundary of Kruger National Park.

But not every day is easy. Over the past two years he has noticed that it is becoming more difficult to see rhinos. “And that’s what people come here to see, the big five, because they know that in the future they could become extinct in the wild.”

Daniel said that Ngala lost 14 rhinos last year, one of them with a newborn. Too young to live in the wild, it now lives in captivity. In December they came across a rhino in Ngala with 20-odd hyena feeding on it.

It still had both horns, bullet holes telling the story of how it had been shot in Kruger and got away from poachers to die an agonising death.

Daniel did much of his training in the Makuleke region in northern Kruger. While there, and due to the vastness of the 26 000ha Makuleke concession and limited staff, he helped patrol. He said intelligence had warned that two poachers were due to cross the border and, on a freezing night and with no light or heat, they set-up camp to wait for these killers. He describes it as the most terrifying experience of his life. On another occasion they found a dead rhino and saw that the poachers had walked across their tracks and those of the anti-poaching unit.

And so it is not surprising that having this first-hand experience, he is embarking on a long walk to raise funds and create awareness around the plight of South Africa’s rhinos.

Daniel is not at home often but we caught up with him on the day he had returned from visiting his girlfriend Heather in Sydney, Australia. They met on a game drive at Ngala Reserve which is closed at present for refurbishment.

He says a rhino is killed in South Africa every seven hours as a result of poaching. Last year, within South Africa alone, over 1 000 rhinos were poached, equal to one twentieth of the rhino population here. In fact, poaching incidents are steadily increasing in South Africa to the point that the number of rhinos killed is almost above the number of rhinos born.

He explains that the point that deaths outweigh births is called the “tipping point” and is the point at which the population begins to be incapable of recovering itself successfully.

“We’re nearly at that point and experts are warning that if we don’t turn the situation around, rhinos will be extinct in the wild within 10 years,” he said.

Daniel starts his Hope for Horns rhino awareness walk on Sunday May 1, walking 922km from Phinda Private Nature Reserve to Botswana’s Ramatlabama Border Gate over 40 days. His dad Mike will join him for the first 10 days, after which his colleague Mike Anderson will walk with him.

This is the route that the Rhinos Without Borders initiative, in partnership with Great Plains Conservation, has committed to move 100 rhino – 70 white and 30 black – from high risk areas in South Africa to the comparative safety of Botswana, where rhino poaching is virtually unheard of.

Daniel says Botswana boasts the lowest poaching rate in southern Africa with an anti-poaching unit supported by their military. And they have a strict anti-poaching policy and intense government interest in conservation.

He said Rhinos Without Borders is working in a phased approach and early in 2015 they translocated 25 rhinos, a cost of roughly R720 000 each. One female is already pregnant.

Along the walk, Daniel will stop at various communities and schools to raise awareness about the issue of poaching and to educate people about why rhinos are important for the people of South Africa.

His mum, Karin, says this is nothing new for Daniel. He already speaks to people in surrounding communities of Ngala telling them that if there are no rhinos there are no jobs. And he has given a talk at 1st Bergvliet Scouts.

If you are interested in donating to support Daniel’s Hope for Horns walk, or would like to learn more, you can visit www.gofundme.com/hopeforhorns

Everything raised by this campaign will go directly to relocating rhinos and consequently will reduce the number of rhinos that are being poached.

To follow Dan and his team on his journey go to Instagram account: @hopeforhorns or www.facebook.com/ hopeforhorns/