Limpopo businessman Piet Warren was until recently the owner of the second-largest privately owned population of rhino in South Africa, but was recently forced to sell more than half his animals due to financial constraints.
With about 250 animals, Warren was second only to John Hume, who has more than 1,600 southern white rhino on his property near Klerksdorp in the North West province.
Last month however, Gravelotte-based Warren made the decision to sell 145 rhinos and two properties, summing 2700 hectares, to a private investor due to economics.
Warren told the Letaba Herald: “Financial pressures to protect rhinos currently is too much; that is why I decided to sell.”
This comes just a few weeks after Hume himself said he is on the verge of bankruptcy and may have to sell off his 1,626 southern white rhinos, or risk them being poached due to ther lack of funds required to provide the heavy security required at his property.
White rhinos are currently listed as ‘near threatened’ by the IUCN Red List and it is estimated that 25% of South Africa’s rhinos are in private hands.
In January of this year, Minister Edna Molewa of the department of environmental affairs released the 2017 poaching numbers from South Africa, and it showed that 1,028 rhinos were poached.
Warren explained the extent of the rhino’s plight: “They are worth more dead than alive. I recently found a dead old rhino bull [who died of natural causes], and I was pleased. If I had sold him alive, I would have received R 180,000. Now I can sell his horn for R 380,000.
“This horn would be worth between R2.8 million and R3.5 million in Vietnam, yet I can only get R180,000 for selling him alive. It doesn’t make any sense.”
In April 2017, South Africa’s highest court rejected a bid by the government to keep a ban on domestic trade in rhino horn. This means that rhino horn can now be traded legally within South Africa. International trade has been banned since 1977, and remains so.
It comes down to simple economics. Private rhino owners can no longer afford to keep feeding and protecting these gentle giants of the bush when they are getting nothing, or very little, in return for them.
Warren estimates he was spending in excess of R100,000 a month on feed for the rhino as well as R200,000 a month on security and anti-poaching measures.
Despite his best efforts to protect them, Warren has lost 32 rhinos over the past 12 years.
Warren advocates for the international trade in rhino horn and believes this is the only thing that will save rhinos from extinction. When asked how long he thinks rhinos have left on this planet, without the ban being lifted, he answered, “I would say eight to 10 years.”
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He wholeheartedly believes in the farming of rhino to remove their horns on a biannual basis to sustainably supply demand from the East.
Made from keratin, the horn is a renewable resource and can be harvested from the animal.
“What is the difference between rhino horn and deer antler? Between 500 and 600 tons of deer antler are exported out of New Zealand alone annually,” Warren says.
Warren argues that the farming of rhinos for their horn is not hugely different to crocodile farming for their skins or ostrich farming for their meat or feathers. The difference is that rhinos do not have to die for their horns to be harvested.
Warren recently received an email discussing the decline in the black rhino population, which reads: “In 1960, it was estimated that the population of rhino in the wild was 100,000, with most of them being black rhino … All credible sources agree that the population declined by 1995 to 2,500 animals … We need to take into account the natural growth rate of the rhino population, which I understand is 6%.”
The correspondence then goes on to make sums over that 35-year period. Taking into consideration the estimated population in 1960 and the natural growth rate, it is speculated that in excess of 6,800 animals were removed from the population each year to reach the small population observed in 1995.
The research assumes that each animal had about 4.5kg of horn, which equates to in excess of 30 tons of horn harvested per annum.
Should this remain the demand in Asia, the future certainly looks bleak for these animals.
Most agree that education is key in stopping the demand in Asian cultures, but it is a slow process and may take generations to achieve. Many believe rhinos do not have enough time left on Earth for such education, and a change of behaviour by rhino-horn end users will not come fast enough to have an impact on improving the odds for the dwindling population.