{ Under The Bluegums }

A personal blog with craft tutorials, reviews of books, films, and music, parenting advice, and opinions on society and politics.

March 14, 2017

Is the Fight Against Rhino Poaching Futile?

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The plight of South Africa's rhinos is still a major point of interest in the country. It is heartbreaking that South Africa is responsible for the majority of Africa's rhinos, many having been hunted to extinction in other nations. This has largely been the result of quick action from the private and public sector in rescuing them. But despite this, it does not seem that South Africa is winning the battle against rhino poaching.

A heartbreaking story in the media recently was the attack of the Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage in northern KwaZulu-Natal in February. Five poachers cut the horns off two of the rhinos - who would soon have been returned to the wild - while they were still alive. They were mutilated to such an extent that one, Gugu, died and the other, Impi, had to be euthanised.  The staff at the orphanage were also brutalised, and while donations have flooded in for the orphanage, the story is very disheartening, especially if allegations of an inside job are to be believed.

There are happy stories. Aquila Private Game Reserve's Saving Private Rhino project welcomed its first rhino orphan just over a week ago. Now seven weeks old, the fiery little orphan's mom died from an infection on a farm in Mpumalanga and conservationist Divan Grobler took on the care of the rhino for the 17-hour drive down to the Western Cape, after spending 10 days gaining the baby's trust.

Grobler seems to be a bit of a celebrity after hand-rearing another abandoned calf, Osita, and along with 10-year-old Hunter Mitchell - who raised more than R100,000 to care for Osita - the pair make a formidable example of how normal people can make a difference in the world, especially for our beleaguered rhinos.

The orphanage at the Aquila Animal Rescue Centre is the first of its kind in the Western Cape and has the added benefits of being without snares, bush meat poachers, and opportunistic poachers with weapons coming from Mozambique that plague more northern reserves. Once the orphans are rehabilitated, there are plenty of safe reserves in the area who will certainly be willing to take them on.

I have to commend people who try against all odds to turn the tide of human destruction. Despite the obvious danger in caring for rhinos, there are people who will do anything they can to help, even risking their own lives.

But I can't help but wonder if all their hard work is futile?

Surely we need the support of government in the fight against poaching and eventual extinction. At the beginning of February, the Department of Environmental Affairs announced it would allow rhino horn to be traded domestically and a tourist visiting SA could export a maximum of two rhino horns for their own purposes. While private rhino owners are purportedly pleased with the move because they can be rid of their stockpiles of rhino horn, the Humane Society International/Africa's executive director Audrey Delsink did not agree it was the correct move, telling TimesLive the regulation would open loopholes for rhino horn laundering, and endorsement of legal rhino horn trading - "...which has significant enforcement challenges and poor capacity" - would only serve to create weak spots in our already holey system.

One company is working on creating a 3D-printed rhino horn that is based on the genetics of actual rhino horns. Although originally these 'fake' rhino horns would be available in powder form and in products as powder, it was decided that they would only be dispersed into the lifestyle goods market, such as for sculptures, chopsticks, and other decorative items. But will this stop the slow road to extinction for the rhino? Conservationists do not think so. Save the Rhino International said in a statement that it would neither reduce demand for the product nor dispel the fictions surrounding its use and would normalise the use of rhino horn. It also added that over 90% of rhino horns that were currently circulating the market were fake already, and this has not stopped poaching.

TRAFFIC, an organisation aimed at monitoring the wildlife trade, told traveller24 in 2016 that the sale of legal ivory stockpiles in 2008 actually increased the black market for the resource by 66%. Instead of curbing the slaughter of elephants, around 100,000 were killed between 2011 and 2014 because it was just that much more simple to sell 'illegal' ivory in the guise of 'legal' ivory. Of course, these kinds of loopholes are easily taken advantage of by the corrupt and corruptible.

It would appear that outwardly governments of both supply and demand countries are vehemently against wildlife and wildlife product trafficking, but neither is willing to accept their part in the issue. The supply country - South Africa for rhino horn - demands that the demand country - China or Vietnam - educate their populations on the myths of rhino horns' medicinal qualities, while the demand country expects the supply country to more seriously enforce law, capture perpetrators, and deal with the supply issue from the source. It is clear that this divided view is, however, not doing anything to help the wild animals who are the source of trafficked goods.

Certain African countries have made significant headway in the battle against animal trafficking, but this is because leadership is just as committed to protecting the resources as the rangers who are protecting the animals on a daily basis.

Perhaps this outright disrespect of animals, commodification of animals, ownership of animals comes from a more sinister place in the scheme of things: what if our spirit is declining along with the animals with whom we share this world? Imagine that everything was in balance - the fecundity of the planet and the proliferation of species was balanced in such a way that humanity could feel truly linked to the Mother Earth. And the more animals we kill - after all, we've lost 50% of the world's wildlife in the last 50 years - the less we feel like the caregivers of the world we were meant to be? We're losing that connection - can you imagine what it will be like when there is no one but us on Earth? It would be desert. Literally. Whatever the truth, it does not appear that any poachers are willing to stop, any customers are willing to stop buying, and hardly anyone at all is willing to look beyond their own selfish needs.

Further reading: 

Poaching Crisis in South Africa
WWF: Wildlife Trafficking report [PDF]
Two Nations Show Good News, Bad News for Africa's Elephants
Synthetic Rhino Horn: Will It Save the Rhino?
Can Fake Rhino Horn Stop the Poaching of a Species at Risk?

{Image credits:
Lead: By Yathin S Krishnappa - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Second: By IkiwanerEdited by jjron - tilt correction - Own work, GFDL 1.2, Link}

March 11, 2017

Book Review || The Spirits Speak or (African Spirits Speak) by Nicky Arden

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It feels strange for me to have picked up this autobiography, "The Spirits Speak" (or "African Spirits Speak" as it was published later) by Nicky Arden, at a time when South Africa is once again in turmoil politically, especially as it was written around the time that we experienced the country's biggest political revolution. If there is one thing this book can teach us is that we are never too far from each other's cultures to learn about them, reconcile our differences, and learn to love each other.

Nicky Arden is among those white people who ran from the unrest in South Africa during apartheid, in 1966. She frequently refers to herself as a coward for doing so, for being unable to stay in the country of her birth and fight for the struggle in the way that many others had.
It is just that the world had forgotten them - those who were that other minority in the quilting of whites. There were those who opposed and fought; there were those who opposed and left; there were those who supported the Nationalist regime. But there were also those who, like me, did not have the courage to fight for their belief - and courage is what it took in those days of torment and unlimited detention - for whom, unlike me, Africa nevertheless remained home; who covered eyes, ears, and mouth in order to stay in a place they loved. This day [1994 elections] was for them, too, a reckoning. [244]
She and her husband return to South Africa after Nelson Mandela is released from prison and apartheid has been brought down; it is during this visit and a trek into the bush that she meets a sangoma who tells her she needs to study to be one, too.

Nicky's journey from here onwards is inspirational: she breaks so many boundaries and taboos on her journey to become what is traditionally seen as an African icon. However, this novel is not about her physical journey but her emotional one, one that takes her right into African culture, where she discovers that she, and all of us, have always been welcome would that we stopped being so afraid and proud.

This novel is about the potential for reconciliation, a gift that black people in South Africa were - with open arms - willing to give to the white people who had heretofore either taken an active part in oppressing them or a passive part by doing nothing to change it.
And what love and acceptance poured from those black Africans who called into the radio station; what forgiveness shone from their words. Would that country have ever reached this conciliation had they not carried in their hearts such true generosity of spirit? Not a word, not a sound, not a sigh of anger, of retribution, only delight and merciful inclusion. [244]
Through Nicky's little group of sangomas and thwasas (sangomas in training) she not only learnt how to love herself but to be loved by a culture that was all too willing to share its love with her, indeed they teach her how to love herself.

This novel left me somewhat melancholy and yearning for the vision of the reconciled South Africa that sparks hope in all its pages, a vision that has somewhat been battered by corruption and a lack of progress in the country's most important arenas.

However, Nicky Arden's story of her journey is highly recommended for those who feel out of touch with their cultural roots or who feel a yearning to learn something about someone but are too afraid to ask.

March 5, 2017

Book Review || The Ghost of Hannah Mendes by Naomi Ragen

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I really wanted to like Naomi Ragen's historical romance novel 'The Ghost of Hannah Mendes'. I really did. But I felt as if I was trapped in a Mills & Boon nightmare of tropes.

It starts off with the matriarch of a Jewish family, Catherine, discovering she has but months to live and regretting that she did not pass on her heritage as was her duty, both as the eldest and as the carrier of her family's traditions. She is visited by the ghost of her famous descendent, Gracia Mendes Nasi (who is based on a real person) and warned that the family tree is dying, since Catherine's two grandchildren seem set on becoming old without settling down and having children. In possession of only a portion of Gracia's memoir, she decides to make her grandchildren, Francesca and Suzanne, find the rest of it, with the hope that they will reunite, come to value their heritage, and decide to settle down with good Jewish men.

I think I couldn't like this novel because I couldn't like any of the characters in it. Catherine is the stereotypical rich woman feeling lost after realising money isn't everything; Suzanne is the stereotypical black-sheep-of-the-family because she wanted to be with her married boyfriend who was not Jewish and a vegetarian; Francesca is the stereotypical working woman floundering after being fired from a job she was very good at and suffering from traumatic romances. Every single character feels as though their characteristics were ticked off of a list for their character types.

And of course, these women so set against romance and pleasing their families just happen to find love with men who are literally too darn good to be true, practically dripping out of the pages of quick-read romances. And they are even Jewish to top it off! What a happy coincidence! It's all too cut-and-dry for me and the love scenes filled with unpredictable passion, love at first sight, feelings of safety and security, are sickly sweet. Certainly, you may love someone with all of your being but no one is perfect and in real life things get in the way. No matter how ideally the pair may be matched.

A portrait suspected to be of Gracia Nasi
I really enjoyed the historical aspects of the novel - the locations visited, the story of the Spanish Inquisition, and Gracia's own experiences - and I know that the theme of the story is to honour your family and your traditions and your religion, but I really feel there was something missing in the telling. Ragen tried to cram too much into the novel. In my opinion, she should rather have focused on either the Catherine-granddaughter story or written the entire story in Gracia's time. Throwing the memoir into the story seemed haphazard and there are moments in the plot - such as after Francesca meets Elizabeta - where everything is up in the air, pained attempts at cliffhanging that were more annoying than intriguing.

Could you say this is a feminist novel, since it is told only from the points of view of the women? I wouldn't say so. The female characters feel as though they've been written by a man, their only concerns their appearances and their stereotypical interests. Plus, the whole idea behind it is that the female granddaughters are not becoming mothers and not getting married, which is unacceptable. While Gracia Mendes is an amazing character historically, lauded in the novel for her business acumen and saving thousands of refugees during the Inquisition and for keeping her family together, it felt a little preachy to me.

In the end I finished the novel just to see how it ended, which is ~ unpredictably ~ happily ever after.

{Image credit: Bronzino [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons}