The Skubie Report

The Skubie Report: Facts not Opinion

1. Horn and Toe Nails: The Rhino Update

For those of you who are interested in the plight of the Rhino, Skubie has a few interesting facts for you to chew over. During his flights he has attended a book launch by a famous conservationist Ian Player; spoken with numerous environmentalists; flown with various Bateleur buddies (pilots who fly for the environment - Skubie is a proud member); consoled an owner of a Rhino which had just been poached ; and even shared a beer with hunters. Here is the word on the ground: No need to cover off the reason for the poaching eg Rhino horn, toe nails, traditional Asian medicine and ignorance – or indeed Yemeni daggers, manhood and prestige. The prevailing opinion here is that Rhino horn needs to be legalised and Rhino’s farmed. The idea is that if the horn is plentiful then the price will go down; the horn can be cut off without any harm to the animal and the horn grows back; game hunters and cattle farmers might actually take up rhino farming, which is more lucrative and less damaging to the environment.

The down side is that Rhino will become farm animals (and we all know how we end up treating them) and wild rhino will simply disappear; and there is no guarantee that the price will actually go down fast enough to save the existing rhino .

Also the Sth African government has huge stocks of horn and wants to sell it, in one block for huge profit, while the conservationists want it slowly released onto the market to control the price. There is a meeting of CITES this year to present the case for legalisation (a move opposed by conservationists), but it might just end up with a once off sale of the stock and life goes on…but not for the rhino.

Another movement afoot is the poisoning and staining of the horns. The poison is not fatal (unlike the first rendition of the product), but does make you sick if consumed. Also the stain remains on your hands for 3 months, so poachers will be easier to trace. To date only one of 30 rhino have been poached.

A different aspect of the story is that many private owners are off- loading their rhino as they cannot afford the cost of protecting them. There is no insurance for rhino that are poached, although it appears that the insurance companies are contemplating covering the rhino which have poisoned horns. Rhinos are cheaper to buy right now at the wild animal markets than Sable Antelope or Buffalo.

The Skubie report 2: Mozambique goes Chinese

Crooks corner - border of Kruger and Mozambique

We were sitting in front of a Braai (an African outside open fire, used as a social centre and BBQ) when the owner of Moyo Lodge (a hunting lodge up until last December, when it became a conservation and research centre), spoke of his house in Mozambique and his view on Chinese investment. We were only 3 hours drive from the Mozambique border and Skubie was safely tethered and covered out on the airstrip, so we settled back to listen to his story.

Before I shared with you his rather negative view on the situation though, I researched it a little on the internet. All sites agreed that China is “emerging rapidly as the most important player in Mozambique, bringing billions of dollars in investment without asking questions. Chinese companies have been building road, bridges, military facilities and hospitals as well as the country’s main airport, in Maputo, and several public buildings.” They are into logging, agriculture, fisheries, construction, manufacturing and mining. However, “there do seem to be some points of tension between the two countries on labour and environmental issues”. A small point it seems!

Hmm! But why were there no questions asked by the Chinese, when making such huge investments? Maybe they wished not to be asked questions themselves, when it came to labour and environmental issues. So, back to my Doctor and the braai conversation. According to him, the Chinese basically do a deal which goes something like this: China invests lots. Politicians get lots. China builds roads, bridges, housing etc. In return Mozambique must use Chinese labour and the construction work must be carried out by Chinese construction companies. When the Chinese leave, the roads, housing, bridges deteriorate and the prisoners are given the option to stay or return to China. Reminds me of Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’: So crucifixion or freedom? Dugh!

Now that sounded a bit far fetched, so I looked up the question of prisoners being used. Well several papers including the Washington Times and the Sri Lanka Guardian and the Japan Times and Bloomberg, published an opinion piece written by a New Delhi based security analyst, Dr. Brahma Chellaney, a former journalist and currently a professor at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi. Chellaney wrote that China was engaged in "the forced dispatch of prisoners to work on overseas infrastructure projects". There were numerous articles on the subject, for and against, but most believed it to be a modus operandi. Mozambique was not mentioned, but it did seem to support the Doc’s story.

Whatever the facts are, it might explain the following: The open border between Mozambique and Kruger National Park has been an open invitation to the jobless and desperate, (ex prisoners?) to poach hundreds of rhinos, aided and abetted by the border guards, with ready buyers, in the Chinese businesses ‘investing’ in the future of Mozambique. Whilst Kruger seems to have reduced the problem of poaching in this area,

the buyers are only across the border and that will continue to be the problem for those with golden horns.

The Skubie Report 3: Death at dawn at MOYO

It was 5.30am and darkness surrounded the team preparing Skubie for another animal count at Moyo Conservation reserve. The headlights of the ‘Bakkie’(a utility van or buckboard) picked up the redness of the earth and cast an eery shadow on the blackness beyond. Dawn was approaching. Little did we know that 50 metres away a wildlife drama was unfolding. On the return of the second flight, the report came in. A dead impala. Who or what was responsible?As we gathered around the carcass, the situation at first was puzzling. Was the predator human or animal? Why was the kill abandoned? Had the electric fence played a role?

The facts:

The carcass: had a hole on the top of the spine similar to a gunshot; the back showed possible clawing , but had not drawn blood; a deep cut was also by the tail end; a long, deep, bloody gash

was across the nose, with a deep gash under the throat The tracks: a variety of tracks were identified as leopard, cheetah and/or hyena – not human; an estimated 100metres of tracks were found along the fence, evidently from a running animal; scuffle and drag marks were found near the kill and at approximately 10 metres away; Other evidence: hair on the electric fence, bent pole and other damage.

The tracks

The resident skilled tracker arrived and surveyed the scene. After analysing the wounds, the tracks,and the scene of the crime, the story unfolded. This is how he told it…

“Haaa! The impala should ave been more worried. De lack of wint meant she not ear, or see da predator moving slowly on da sandy ground. Maybe she see da shadow from the corner of her eye, but it too late. Ish! It was Cheetah for sure! Da paw prints show claws dat stay out (non retractable). Good for running. Him fastest and longest chaser. Not leopard. Leopard he hide in bush. The cheetah claw legs of animal to trip, or pull it down. See here. He try to bite her back. The marks are clear. She run until this point and den spin back, to try to shake da cheetah off. Agh! She really scared. Hit da electric fence very fast, leaving deep gash in her face see. Da shock give da cheetah the time to grab her by da throat. He hold on. She fight, but he hold on tight. It too late. She dead. I fink da car come den and scare da cheetah away. Cheetah not coming back.”

The injuries

When the tracker left us, we all felt a deep sadness for a once beautiful animal and its killer, who would go hungry for just another day.