Motswari Blog Volume 31 – Protecting our rhinos from the techno advanced poaching syndicates

World Rhino Day–22nd September 2019

If you follow our page regularly, you’ll notice we never post images of rhinos on Facebook or Instagram. You may wonder why? The reason for the lack of photos of this endangered species is as a result of a specific directive from the Umbabat and Timbavati governing bodies. They are determined to reduce the risk of highlighting the “horns” that can be found in our location because sophisticated poaching syndicates are prolific in using the internet, social media channels in particular, to identify animals and locations that will produce the most promising and profitable results. Therefore,in their opinion (and many other people’s)not posting on the commercial business pages will reduce the exposure and reduce the risk.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? Of course, it’s no secret that there is rhino in the Timbavati and Umbabat,we are linked to Kruger National Park so it’s not rocket science to know they’re here. So why the directive? Well, there are many schools of thought regarding the reasoning:

Thought 1:

If we don’t show the specific animal’s horns, there by not advertising the horn available in this area,then the temptation is reduced

Thought 2:

Rhinos are mostly territorial and have very specific eating habits, there are grassy areas for white rhino that really are “preferred”. Therefore, showing images of locations where we see them surely will only highlight their “home”.

Thought 3:

Because the animals within this area are not yet part of the dehorning or horn devaluation project,they might be even more targeted if we put images out there to the masses for all to see. Whether the directive will change once dehorning or devaluation occurs,we are yet to find out.

Thought 4:

Commercial lodges have a much larger following and reach capacity with regards to audience around the world. We can’t vet or check every single follower on the page therefore have no control over who we are actually talking to–who knows who’s watching. So,let’s not make it easy and keep the rhino images off the commercial platforms.

How about looking at it from a different angle. If we don’t post any rhino images, we are unable to highlight the majesty and magnificence of these prehistoric goliaths. They are truly unique and pre-date us by thousands of years. Nicknamed “the chubby unicorn”,a cutesy way of encouraging people to embrace their charm, these animals are magical. But we can’t talk about that, at all. Don’t we want everyone to talk about how incredible these animals are? They are a massive tourist attraction and bring valuable tourism dollars into the country. If we can’t shout about that then we must be losing something as a result.It’s a catch 22 situation–we want to highlight their existence, their beauty and their presence yet we don’t want to put them even more at risk. So, what’s the answer?

As a Social Media Manager, I know it’s impossible to control what our guests post on their own Instagram and Facebook pages after their safari experience. There are measures in place where by the Guide’s speak to their guests on arrival,highlighting the dangers associated with posting images or videos to social media platforms captured on their cell phones. Most people have no idea that if their location settings are set to “ON” then what they upload has a specific GPS location tagged to the image/video–it’s called metadata.Anyone can access that data once it’s online–anyone. Even people you think you have locked out by extensive privacy settings, there is software that is used by poaching syndicates that extracts these images and this data specifically to locate rhinos. The internet is not impenetrable, we are naive if we think it is.

We do what we can to educate our guests and ensure that if they do take images and want to use them,we ask them not to tag Motswari or Geiger’s Camp or even the Timbavati/Umbabat. Instead we suggest they use the location “Somewhere in Africa”.We can’t control everyone and sadly we see a lot of rhino images going up by guests who have not taken heed of specific instructions and that is frustrating.

Anti-poaching units are an absolute necessity in all safari locations nowadays, yet they’re fighting a losing battle much of the time. K9 units are becoming more and more prominent. Free running hounds are trained to track, locate and hold poachers whilst the cavalry follow on foot or in air support. The whole anti-poaching operation is forever maturing, growing and gaining sophistication in a bid to keep up with the poaching syndicates intelligence and methods. The Rangers who put their lives on the line every day to help protect our wildlife need our support and dedication, to match their own. That means we need to ensure we don’t make their daily activity any harder,riskier or more dangerous.Is there a right answer? We don’t think so.Do we believe it makes a difference not posting images of the rhinos we see on a regular basis–YES WE DO. Temptation, money, greed–it has to start somewhere.Do we miss out (and therefore you) on talking about our wonderful rhino–YES WE DO.But, we’ll do what we need to do to keep the rhino safe and hope that everyone who comes to visit us will do the same.

We do have one outlet for our love of rhinos luckily, in the form of Rhino Disharmony. This organisation was founded by the Motswari owners and is a movement to create a global voice against rhino poaching using art in all its forms–including painting, sculpture, music, writing,photography and any other artistic expression.It is this platform that we communicate, embrace and celebrate all things “rhino” with no risk to the animals at all.So,if you feel like you’re missing out on some rhino love–please do find us on Facebook and Instagram to see what we do and how we do it!

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