Rotary donation of backpacks will help in effort to combat South Africa’s illegal wildlife trade

By on January 16, 2018

Henry Tarr, who works as a field guide at a wildlife reserve in South Africa, spoke to Osoyoos Rotarians about the illegal wildlife trade. Tarr is the son of Rotarian Marieze Tarr and was back in Osoyoos for a short visit. (Richard McGuire photo)

A project by the Rotary Club of Osoyoos to provide backpacks to field rangers in South Africa will help to combat illegal wildlife poaching, club members heard recently.

Henry Tarr, 24, who works as a field guide in South Africa, was the guest speaker at Rotary’s Jan. 4 meeting. He is the son of Rotarian Marieze Tarr.

Tarr was born in Redvers, Saskatchewan and lived for a number of years in Osoyoos before moving to South Africa. His recent visit to Osoyoos was only for a couple of weeks.

The 20 Camelbak packs the club is purchasing will allow field rangers to carry water, food and other supplies, enabling them to stay in the bush longer in their hunt for poachers, said Tarr, who works in Timbavati Game Reserve.

The packs are destined for rangers in a section of neighbouring Kruger National Park in the northeast of South Africa where their resources to fight poachers are scarce.

The Camelbak packs, which cost about $300 each, are being funded under a “Save a Rhino” campaign spearheaded by Rotarian Harold Cox and his wife Audrie.

The backpacks, said Tarr, will not only help the rangers stay out longer tracking poachers, but they show appreciation for what the rangers do.

“They are the silent warriors out there,” said Tarr. “You don’t often see them. They’re not the guys in front of the cameras. They’re not taking guests to see the animals. They are the guys in the shadows and this kind of appreciation shows them that somebody does care out there.”

Tarr showed slides – some gruesome – of animals attacked by poachers as he described the scale of the slaughter both in terms of declining animal populations and the billions of dollars it brings to international crime syndicates.

The illegal wildlife trade is worth between $5 and $20 billion a year around the world, said Tarr.

Rhinos are slaughtered for their horns, which can be worth up to $90,000 per kilo when it is sold to Southeast Asian markets and to China for traditional medicine.

Often the horns are cut from the rhinos, leaving them to die slow painful deaths.

“A lot of the time they cut the whole nasal cavity right off so they actually die of shock or blood loss,” said Tarr.

In the five years he’s been in South Africa, Tarr said about 8,000 white rhinos have been shot in that country alone, reducing their population by close to a third.

As the rhino population has declined, poaching of elephants for their ivory tusks has skyrocketed, Tarr said.

The ivory tusks aren’t worth as much as rhino horn and they’re bulky to haul out of the bush.

Because one person can carry only two tusks, poachers go out in groups where they are more likely to come into confrontation with rangers.

In Kruger National Park last year, there were about 78 elephants shot, which is about a 35 to 40 per cent increase over the previous year, Tarr said.

Field rangers used to go out in twos and threes and face one poacher with a rifle.

“Now they are going out and they’re facing three, four and five guys, often with AK-47s,” he said. “These guys are tenacious and ferocious. They will fight back because they know their life is on the line as well.”

But the most trafficked animal is less well known. It’s the ground pangolin, an elusive animal that looks something like an anteater or an armadillo, but has unique protective keratin scales covering its skin.

In Southeast Asia and China, its meat is considered a delicacy and its scales are also prized by poachers for their use in traditional medicine, Tarr said.

“When you hear of areas in Vietnam and China actually stopping the shipments of pangolin scales, it’s not 100 pounds or 200 pounds,” said Tarr. “It’s three tons, four tons, five tons of pangolin scales. You can imagine how many pangolins that amounts to.”

The crime syndicates involved in the wildlife trade are also involved in money laundering, human trafficking, drugs and firearms, Tarr said.

“This is just a small piece of the pie,” he added, noting that people working to protect the animals have been assassinated and the field rangers have faced threats to their families in their villages.

“The wildlife trade is a dirty game,” he said.

RICHARD McGUIRE

Osoyoos Times

 

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