The shots rang out, incredibly loud and shocking in the still country air, silencing the excited crowd into a moment of hush, before it erupted again into a flurry of loud laughter and relieved roars. We were standing in a dry, dusty football field just outside Numwa School, Imire in Hwedza, on the border of the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe.
A large crowd had gathered to watch an impressive display put on by Zimbabwe’s National Parks’ Anti-Poaching Unit in honour of World Rhino Day… it was poachers versus anti-poaching, the drama complete with a huge life-size model rhino and blank shots, and of course, our heroes in green won the day and everyone was happy.
Sadly, this is not so much the reality in Zimbabwe, where the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, together with various conservation and environmental groups, do their best in the ongoing battle against increasingly more sophisticated poaching methods. Although the world spotlight has been focused on South Africa’s shocking rhino poaching figures, (381 rhinos were killed in South Africa between January and May this year), Zimbabwe is not any better, especially if you look at it proportionately. Zimbabwe has the fourth largest population of black rhinos in the world.
According to figures recently released by the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, Zimbabwe has a national total of approximately 430 black rhinos and 290 white rhinos. In the late 1980’s the black rhino population numbered around 1500, even up to 2000. Poaching of rhino in Zimbabwe has been on the increase since 2007 with around 300 rhinos having being poached recently – very latest available figures take it up to 380 this year alone.
World Rhino Day was celebrated here in Harare, Zimbabwe in several diverse and interesting ways over a weekend. I was fortunate enough to be a part of three events that started on Friday, 21st September, when I went out to Imire Rhino and Wildlife Conservation to join in the fun. The anti-poaching demonstration, followed by a delicious lunch on the rocks by the dam and then the exciting final of a football tournament, each of the colourful locally-based teams sponsored by various local companies, combined to make this a community day with a special message that you would find difficult to find the likes of anywhere else. This incredible day set the tone for an exciting weekend of strong conservation messages and active involvement in Harare and elsewhere, and I felt a real unity of purpose, witnessing how communities can come together so effectively for a common cause.
On Saturday, 22nd September, a small parade, led by the engaging “oompah oompah” sounds of the Zimbabwe Republic Police Band and a smart set of baton-twirling drum majorettes took place in the morning. The parade left Town House and marched along to Africa Unity Square, where the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority had set up a great display and were the hosts of many speakers, school drama and singing groups, important officials and ministers, representatives from conservation groups and sports bodies, plus, the highlight of the morning, dendera singer Sulumani Chimbetu and his band, who entertained the gathered crowd with their vibey music and great animal-inspired dance moves!
That afternoon, a Rhinos at Play event was arranged by the Midwest Rhinos Cricket franchise and, together with various other sporting specialists in hockey, rugby and football, got together with a large group of rural kids to teach them the basics of each sporting discipline. For many, this was the first time they’d seen a cricket bat or rugby ball, so it was enlightening and entertaining! Lots of fun, chicken burgers and sunshine culminated in a tough Rhino Quiz, just to give everyone’s brains a workout. Overall, the day was a great success and helped raise crucial awareness amongst the kids, especially.
And then Sunday saw me getting up early for the Rooney’s Run for Rhino, a 5km or 15km walk/run event (depending on how you spent Saturday night!), hosted and sponsored by Rooney’s, a prominent events and hire company in Zimbabwe, to raise money for rhino conservation and awareness in conjunction with Environment Africa. Much huffing and puffing later and I felt I’d done my bit! But all good fun and for such a good cause!
Next year will be bigger and better – and, in the meantime, we won’t forget the plight of the rhino and all the people here and around the world that are working so hard to help protect this highly endangered species.
Written by John Stevens Safaris
We at Jenman African Safaris also support the fight against rhino poaching! A group of ladies and gents at our Cape Town head office decided to do something different and so they therefore shed their clothes – and inhibitions – for a new approach at rhino conservation with their first ever photographic calendar.