Rhinos: strong but oh so vulnerable


The poaching of rhinos for their horn is a truly abhorrent trade, and shows humans at their worst, not only in terms of wanton cruelty, but also for their gross stupidity in believing that the horn a) makes a nice macho handle for their dagger, or b) does a single thing for their sexual performance. I do not wish to be sexist, but we are talking of the male of the species here.

However, while we are blaming recent decades of poaching for big game loss, it is worth remembering that some truly monumental decimation took place in countries like Kenya under colonial rule, and by the kind of aristocratic settler who considered East Africa their own personal hunting ground; this to the exclusion of the people whose land it had been for generations, and who then became labelled poachers if they were caught hunting for the pot.

John Hunter, was but one of many white hunters who worked both on his own account as a safari leader, and as a game clearance officer for the government. He began his hunting career around 1910 after quitting his job as a guard on the Mombasa railway. In an article in LIFE magazine 12 July 1952 he begins by saying:

When I first came to Kenya the game covered the plains as far as man could see. I hunted lions where towns now stand, and shot elephants from the engine of the first railroad to cross the country. In the span of my 65 years the jungles have turned to farmland and savage tribes have become factory workers. I have had a little to do with this change myself; for the government employed me to clear dangerous beasts out of areas that were opened to cultivation.This was in a day’s work for me; yet I have always been a sportsman.

John A Hunter(1887 – 1963)


His career tally for elephants killed is 1,400, but when it comes to rhinos, he holds the world record. Over a two-day period he was responsible for 1,000 rhino deaths, the slaughter taking place in the Makindu area of Ukambani, about a hundred miles south of Nairobi. The land, and rather poor land at that, was wanted by the authorities for the resettlement of the Akamba people. But the scale of the killing goes to show how plentiful these animals once were.

When John Hunter came to retire in 1958, it was to the small hotel he had built at Hunter’s Lodge, Makindu. I have written about the place in other posts; we practically lived there in ‘92. The story goes that successive owners had long given up trying to keep the roadside hotel sign upright. Always, the locals said, some avenging rhino would come and flatten it. Whether this was a real or a spirit rhino, no one said, but there were certainly no rhinos in sight when we were there.

Today in Kenya there are several private reserves where small numbers of black and white rhinos live out their lives with round-the-clock ranger-guards. At the time when the top photo was taken, the white rhino concerned inhabited, with several others, a secluded part of a Maasai-owned group ranch. It is hoped that initiatives such as these will keep the species viable, but it is by no means certain. It is anyway a dangerous job for the men in the photo below. These days poachers come well armed with automatic weapons. It takes great bravery and strength of character to protect the world’s wildlife out in the bush. So three cheers for the rangers wherever they are working on this, WORLD RHINO DAY. These men and women deserve all our  praise and support. It is only a shame that their diligent protection continues to be needed.


Anti-poaching team in a private reserve in Northern Kenya


copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

For a South African perspective on the state of rhinodom see De Wets Wild, always a blog worth visiting for its wonderful wildlife photos.

And for an Indian view, Sriram Janak’s wonderful blog.

Ailsa’s travel theme: strong for more strong stories


32 thoughts on “Rhinos: strong but oh so vulnerable

  1. Great article – John Hunter sounds like a terrible man – how odd that his surname was Hunter – what a despicable character.

    1. He was of his time, I suppose. He came from Scottish farming stock, started out as a young adventurer, rubbed shoulders with the likes of the Blixens and Denys Finch Hatton, all of whom played their part in the killing of big game. In 1912 Kenya was actively wooing more elite British settlers on the promise of the country’s vast ‘sporting’ potential. I believe in the end, John Hunter became something of a conservationist!!!!

      1. I think that quite a few hunters did become conservationists in the end – strange life path though – thank goodness taking a good shot now refers to taking a good photo.

  2. It hurts me to read time after time about the huge numbers of wildlife, whether rhinos or elephants, killed by poachers. It is awful. Just last week I learned that between 2010 and 2012, poachers have killed 100,000 elephants in Africa alone 😦

  3. I agree with Suzanne, such wanton destruction can only be described as despicable. Hunter’s story is a poignant reminder that Africa’s wildlife has been mistreated for a very long time.

    Thanks for sharing our post for World Rhino Day with your friends, Tish.

  4. Stunning shots of these beauties Tish and what a great post! I don’t know how anyone can hunt for sport and it’s heartbreaking to see how our wildlife is thinned out because of these stupid beliefs!

  5. Even the rhino sanctuaries are in danger and there are attempts to have electric fences around them. One of the conservancies I think is intending to use drones to scout its rhinos and elephants.

  6. I really can’t comment much on this subject let alone read your post. Sorry. I get way too emotional.
    Some SA game farmer was arrested last weekend. But it is the plonkers in the East who are buying the stuff.
    The SA government is not doing way enough – probably for fear of upsetting Easter Trade partners?
    We get (almost) weekly updates in the weekend press. It is too horrible for words. I can no longer read the stats.
    When I first read the amount of devastation I literally wept. It truly is heartbreaking.
    They should inject a poison into every rhino horn.
    That will solve the Chinese Limp D**K problem very smartly, methinks.

    1. Yes, it is v. upsetting, Ark. But I gather the Humane Society International has been lobbying South Africa to stop the trophy shooting, and that’s something everyone can have a say on too. Also they’ve been making some headway awareness raising in Vietnam which is the main user apparently. Otherwise I suppose we can all stop buying Vietnamese goods?? Make more use of social media…

    1. Yep. No limit to colonial hypocrisy. Takes one’s breath away, this prior to wanting to have a good scream. I think it was Oscar Wilde who described Britain’s fox hunting types as the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible. Much the same could be said of the white hunters and settlers who slaughtered vast quantities of wild life.

      1. And I didn’t tell you. Sometime in March–I think it was March–an authority figure in Kenya suggested that the rhinos should be dehorned in order to discourage poachers. I still recoil from this conception. Apart from its apparent admission that the war on poachers has failed and the animals must be tortured further! Really??

    1. Thank you, Debra. Re rhinos, I’ve just read some slightly better news. Humane Society International have been working with the Vietnamese, from the government downwards. Vietnam is apparently the biggest end-user, but through a nation-wide education campaign, HSI say they have achieved a 38% reduction in usage. Also a quarter of the population now accept that rhino horn has no medicinal value. It shows what may be done.

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