World Rhino Day: Combating Poaching Through Conservation Education
The World Rhino Day - celebrated on the 22nd of September - highlights various efforts by different individuals, organizations and governments working hard to ensure the survival of the rhino. The recent increase in demand from the Asian countries for the rhino’s horn has seen poaching rates soar to horrifying levels, and all stakeholders involved agree that the need to dispel the mythical rumours associated with the horn has never been more urgent. For the past three years, organizations have marked this day with creative activities ranging from art shows to cycling races. The proceeds are ploughed back into various rhino conservation projects.
The future of rhinos, and other wildlife, lies in the present values and attitude that we cultivate in the young generation who will not only help debunk the superstition surrounding the rhino horn but in the future will be motivated to protect these animals from aggressors. Additionally, African rhino horn is fetching a hefty sum in the black market today and the allure of quick money is not lost on young desperate people from countries where rhinos are found.
With this in mind, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy chose to celebrate this day by educating students from Ntugi Day Secondary School - a sponsored school under Lewa’s Education Programme - on the benefits of conservation. Organized by the Conservation Education Centre and the Marketing Department, the day started off with a game drive where the students got to see rhinos, Grevy’s zebras, herds of elephants, different species of birds, buffalo, antelope and even a tortoise! All this was accompanied by interesting descriptions of each species’ characteristics and behaviour by a tutor from the Conservation Education Centre. Students also took notes as they peered through the bus’s open windows, enjoying Lewa’s beautiful scenery.
Refreshments of the day were served on top of a hill that overlooks the swamp where most wildlife quench their thirst and cool off during a hot day. John Tanui from Lewa’s Security Department chose this moment to engage the young crowd in serious talk, giving them a brief history of the rhino’s drastic decline at the hands of poachers. Students were shocked to learn that in the early 1960s, Kenya was home to approximately 20,000 rhinos, but by the end of the 1980s this number had reduced to 400. John insisted that protecting rhinos in the country was not the sole responsibility of the government or sanctuaries that hold these animals- every individual has an important role to play by increasing awareness of the plight of the rhino in their respective communities.
After the lunch, the students returned to the Conservation Education Centre where a short but powerful video on poaching by the African Conservation Foundation was played. It proved to be very informative, with the stunning graphics depicting the continued rhino massacre leaving a lasting impression on the students. This important day was wrapped up with a quiz that tested the students’ newly gained knowledge, with the winner receiving a beautiful coffee table book with wonderful wildlife pictures.
Lewa hopes that this and similar exercises that seek to educate students on the benefits of conservation will have the intended impact- that young Kenyans will recognize wildlife is part of their heritage which must be preserved at all cost.