"My rhino story told to Shayamanzi" by J.G. du Toit
Rhino poaching and the efforts to save them have been in the news for the last few years. Dr. du Toit is on the frontlines of fighting the plague of poachers while at the same time working to save rhinos. He provides great guidelines which he learned from hard experience, from practical conservation up to how the public can help in a way that will directly benefit the rhinos.
When I was six years old my father dropped me one evening at the bioscope, the 20th Century in Worcester with a sixpence in my hand. Nowadays my children go to movies with R200 in their pockets. He said to me that I must go and watch the “film” and he will fetch me at ten o’clock in front of the building. The movie was Hatari, my first contact with black rhino. It got stuck into my memory up to this day.
After matric I studied Animal Science at the University of Stellenbosch before I started with my compulsory military training in 1979. During the same period government officials ‘poached’ (write out their own permits) the threatened Koakoland elephants. There was a huge public outcry in the newspapers. The SA Air Force was also involved testing missiles at Lake St Lucia in KwaZulu-Natal. This was further fuel on the conservation fire. Instructions came from Minister P.W. Botha to appoint qualified national service men to take care of the wildlife on military properties. The Chief of the South African Defence Force (SADF) immediately promulgated a nature conservation policy which was applicable to all areas under the control of the SADF. The biggest problem was that there was no budget for conservation in the Defence Force. I was the lucky draw at that time qualified enough to start the small conservation unit in the Air Force.
Today when I looked back this first step to introduce endangered animals on Defence Force property played a major role on the attitudes of decision makers in key positions. It created a pride between units and soon there was a trophy for the best conservation section in the Defence Force.
This is where my story with rhinos started and expanded over the years into many more projects, studies and stories.