Tragically, a record 668 rhinos were poached in South Africa in 2012. The gruesome killing of the most powerful and charismatic of animals just for their horns has rallied a regional conservation group, The Sacramento Safari Club (SSC), and its president Don Giottonini from Stockton.
“This year we highlighted the need to conserve rhinos at our annual February auction with Lorenzo’s “Primitive Power,’” said Don Giottonini of Stockton and President of the Sacramento Chapter of Safari Club. “Our chapter has contributed more than $346,000 to initiatives ranging from black rhino re-propagation and Zimbabwe anti-poaching plans to supporting California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Hunter Education Program.
The centerpiece of fundraising efforts was a massive bronze sculpture of a rhino entitled “Primitive Power” donated by world-renowned artist Lorenzo Ghiglieri that sold for $7,500. Giottonini and his board of directors will carefully screen projects to help stop the poaching of rhinos over the next several months and will be looking closely at the successful anti-poaching unit at Hluhuwe-iMfolozi National Park in South Africa.
Fighting rhino poaching takes local, national and international support from groups like the Sacramento Safari Club chapter of SCI. Last March, National Geographic Magazine chronicled rhino poaching activities that had gone international and high-tech in 2012. Fueled by demand in Asia as a medical cure-all, a single black rhino horn commanded a price of up to $35,000 on the black market according to the magazine. Poachers now use helicopters, night vision equipment and radio tracking devices to track, kill and transport the horns of their magnificent prey.
Last June in Hluhuwi-IMfolozi National Park, South Africa, I interviewed Commander Jabulani Nubane head of the Anti-Poaching Patrol Program for Kwazulu Natal Province, regarding the soaring number of poached rhinos nation-wide. The setting was perfect; Hluhuwi-IMfolozi has the largest population of rhinos in the world, and is the place white rhinos were saved from extinction.
A light aircraft sat nearby at a makeshift airstrip cut out of the thick African velt. It was bought for anti-poaching efforts by the London Chapter of Safari CIub International. Operating costs for another aircraft to conduct surveillance at Hluhuwi-IMfolozi is paid for by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife program called the Rhino-Tiger Conservation Fund. The aircraft enables Nubane’s unit to respond quickly to reported sightings of poaching activities, and biologists to maintain updated counts of rhinos in the park.
Jabulani said, “Recently we formed new elite anti-poaching units, enlisted tribal leaders and community support to try and meet the poaching threat. Those efforts take time and funding. We are grateful for the support we have received from U.S. conservation groups.”
To date, the elite anti-poaching units have made a difference. Coupled with tribal leaders support, it is the only area to see a slight decline in poaching during 2010-11 coinciding with the new intensive anti-poaching patrols.
Money from conservation organization such as the Sacramento Safari Club chapter of SCI is buying equipment, funding special projects and flight time. Most important is that money and equipment is reaching patrol-level wardens in places like Hluhuwi-IMfolozi where frontline wardens are “Locked, loaded and ready to stop poaching.”
In Stockton, Giottonini said, “Protecting and conserving rhinos is all of our jobs. It took decades of work and millions of dollars to bring them back, lets spend as much time and money as we can to keep them safe.”