Proteas’ famous hands help rhinos

Helen Crooks

FOR the first time in its year-long history, the Mark Boucher/SAB Save The Rhino initiative moved to the Eastern Cape this week when a mother and calf were tranquillized, tagged, microchipped and DNA samples taken.

The initiative was launched by the former Proteas player before he suffered a devastating eye injury forcing his retirement from cricket. It is aimed at compiling a complete database of rhinos and, while it certainly will not halt the poaching crisis, is aimed at helping to alleviate it.

Believing that wildlife is a vital asset, Boucher assists at many of the dartings as possible.

“Poaching has gone so high-tech that it is not inconceivable that innocent tourists could accidentally be shot by poachers,” Boucher said at this week’s darting. It was carried out at a reserve, which has asked not to be identified to protect the animals.

While conceding that microchipping and taking DNA samples were not absolute deterrents to poachers, Boucher said they did assist in linking the crime to the perpetrators, leading to quicker convictions and lengthier sentencing.

The initiative also gives game farms more control over the animals by tracking their whereabouts more effectively. That is done using electronic “collars” fitted to a fully grown rhino’s back foot while the animal is sedated.

On the sale of stockpiled rhino horns, Boucher has a somewhat controversial point of view. “Why not?” asked the 36-year-old sporting great who was educated and grew up in East London.

“It reduces the need to poach and makes money for the game farmer … whether he gets 50% and the government gets 50%, or if a different ratio is applied.

“The government could then plough this money back into rhino education or even RDP housing. It’s money that’s being wasted right now.”

Teaming up with Boucher in the initiative is SAB, which is helping to raise funds for and promote awareness of the campaign on Castle lager cans, encouraging civic-minded consumers to donate R10 to the cause using an SMS line.

The company also encourages big business to get involved by paying for the game experience of a lifetime through taking clients on trips to dart and tag rhinos.

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