'Captive Breeding Operation' is Nothing More Than a Legal Definition Created by CITES. There are No Cages or Enclosures.
Rhino on These Reserves Live Wild & Free.
Private South African wildlife reserves are a conservation triumph. The rhino lucky enough to live on these reserves enjoy tranquil, happy lives, in ideal environments, with thousands of hectares to wander, and all the food, water, and mating opportunities their big rhino hearts could desire.
If a picture says a thousand words, perhaps it is best to let you see for yourself. Click on this video for a five-minute look at the animals on our reserve. They are wild, and free, just as G-d intended. The only difference between them and their cousins in Kruger is that we keep them safe.
The fully-natural state of our rhino is not unique to our operation. It is the standard across virtually all the private conservation reserves in South Africa.
When those who oppose the legal trade in rhino horn describe the captive breeding operations that would form the backbone of that trade, their first line of attack is often to claim that rhino in privately owned reserves are unhappy, or somehow diminished in ways that render them a loss to conservation. A quick review of the manner in which these reserves operate is sufficient to expose the dishonesty of such claims.
Rhino on private reserves are healthy, happy, and exhibit the same ‘wild’ behaviours as their cousins on Kruger. Privately held rhino are still wild animals. Their breeding opportunities are frequent and unfettered. They are neither hand-fed nor tame. And the land they occupy is ‘wild’ Africa, complete with herds of other species, natural grazing, and the same behavioural norms as their wildest ancestor. If a rhino from a South African captive breeding operation were trucked to Kruger tomorrow, it would settle in immediately, although it might miss the daily ice cream treats. [No. We do not really give the rhino any ice cream.]
The only difference between rhino on reserves that have been recognized as ‘captive breeding operations’ and rhino in a national park is that the former are guaranteed food and water, no matter how bad a drought in their region might get. They are guaranteed veterinary care, although this is seldom required. They are guaranteed more vigorous protection from poaching, which one suspects they appreciate. And they sometimes enjoy not having to share their reserve with lion or elephant, as reserves often choose not to house those two species due to the risk they pose to security rangers patrolling at night.
Far from keeping rhino in small enclosures, as is sometimes alleged, captive breeding operations in South Africa are many thousands of hectares in size. While it is true that these reserves are sometimes split into smaller sections to make it easier to keep poachers from the rhino, it is also true that each of these sections is still big enough that a rhino can walk all day without making it from one side to the other.
From a conservation breeding perspective, rhino are quite magical creatures. If they are not happy, they refuse to breed. This is why zoos are constantly asking South Africa’s private reserves if we would be willing to sell them more rhino. Those of us who have made it our life’s work to ensure the survival of these animals would be shooting ourselves in the foot if we put them into physical enclosures that made them unhappy and, thus, stopped them from producing offspring.
Consider the fact that rhino from South Africa’s private reserves have been relocated to national parks in Eswatini, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, and a number of other African countries. And they have thrived in these environments specifically because the private reserves from which they come are perfectly natural environments. If our rhino were not still truly WILD animals, they would not have done so well when used to restock areas that the uninformed pretend are "wilder" than our reserves.
South Africa’s privately-protected populations represent a ‘Noah’s Ark’ of healthy rhino available to repopulate those areas of Africa that now need to reintroduce rhino. Indeed, their vital role in conservation can be seen in these charts showing how many rhino South Africa has today on government reserves vs. private reserves, and how that has changed over time.
The first chart shows us how much more rapidly private reserves have managed to grow their rhino populations in the thirty years since private rhino ownership became possible. The importance of being able to restore decimated populations so quickly cannot be overstated.
The next chart shows the how private vs. public populations have changed over just the past ten years. And here we really see how hugely important private
reserves have been in keeping rhino populations alive, and how much more terrible our conservation setback would have been if it were not for the private individuals putting their lives, fortunes, and families at risk to protect these animals.
Private individuals, and the reserves they operate, have been the key to saving South Africa’s bontebok, sable, crocodiles, and even ostriches. Over the past twenty years, they have proven to be the critical element in our efforts to save rhino. These reserves are, all too often, attacked by uninformed ideologues spreading unsubstantiated claims of imagined animal unhappiness. Such misinformation must be vigorously tested and, when found to be untrue, dismissed from the discussion entirely.