When a young male rhino and its heavily pregnant mother were poached at a friend’s reserve in South Africa, these sisters decided enough was enough.
The rhinos at Mount Camdeboo private game reserve lived a quiet and relatively safe life. Mothers and their babies roamed the vast expanse of land undisturbed – as they had done thousands of years before.
In order to protect the majestic, primordial beasts he considers his pride and joy, owner Iain Buchanan deployed state-of-the-art security in early 2015 at the South African game reserve.
But this wasn’t enough to protect them from the growing poaching threat. This year, four of them of were found slaughtered, their horns brutally hacked off.
“They were like his children,” implores Vanessa Wiesenmaier, a personal friend of Iain’s. “He was absolutely heart broken.”
“The worst by far was in March, when a young male and its heavily pregnant mother was poached. They tried to save the foetus that was just days from being born, but sadly the baby was dead,” she recounts.
Now repeat this scene every 7 hours; that is South Africa’s modern reality. There were 1,215 rhino poaching incidents in the country in 2014 – a figure that has skyrocketed from the 13 rhino illegally killed in 2007.
“By 2016, the killing rate will be higher than the birth rate, which means a species is going very quickly towards extinction,” says Vanessa’s sister Vicky. “And that’s why we have to act now, we can’t wait around for someone else to do something. We have to act, before it’s too late.”
And act they did. The sisters decided to quit their jobs in South Africa and travel to the source of the problem – China, Vietnam and Thailand – where rhino horn is consumed as a status symbol and health tonic, and can fetch up to US$70,000 per kilo. (That’s more than gold or cocaine!)
With little-to-no biking experience, the sisters decided to challenge themselves by covering 6,000km in 7 months, on a route starting in Hong Kong and finishing in Singapore. Along the way they have been visiting international schools and speaking to children about the rhino poaching crisis in their home country.
“A lot of them admit that their parents either have, or are, using rhino horn,” says Vanessa. “We have people coming up to us and saying things like ‘my uncle is using rhino horn, what can I tell him to get him to make him stop?’ and that’s so encouraging.”
Dubbed the ‘Buy no Rhino’ bike tour, their mission quickly gained momentum. Over the months, their social media following has grown significantly, allowing them to reach an even wider audience with their vital message. And signs show that they are being heard.
“The kids and young adults have a changed mindset. They are now aware of wild animals and the need to protect our environment,” says Vicky.
It’s this kind of change that will eventually prevent further killings, and save remaining rhinos from the tragic fate of the mother, child and unborn baby at Mount Camdeboo. Educating the new generation, making them aware of the impact of their actions, and connecting them with nature, will make them want to protect this precious species – not be the cause of its extinction for something as superficial as vanity, or superstition.
To find out more about the sisters’ inspiring journey, watch (and share!) the Freeland TV episode below or visit their website