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Operation Rhinbow (which is the sort of name you choose when you have a four-year old in the family who likes rhinos and rainbows above all else in this world) is a ground-breaking project to bring South Africa's rural communities into rhino conservation, and to give them meaningful opportunities in this space.
Rhinbow pairs successful private rhino reserves with rural
community partners who wish to own and protect rhino. The reserves transfer ownership of a 'starter package' of five rhino to each community, and provide that community with the mentorship and skills transfer that are necessary to ensure their success.
The first such transfer took place on October 18, 2021, when our reserve donated five rhino to the Makuya Community Trust. The community, and a group of honoured guests, were present as the rhino were identified and darted for micro-chipping and registration on the national rhino DNA database.
The second and third transfers, which bring additional reserves and additional communities into the fold, are scheduled to take place in January 2022, and more will follow.
These are small steps, however, and do not represent the full scope of the effort underway. The eventual goal is to transfer ownership of hundreds, and perhaps as much as 2,000, rhino into community hands and, in so doing, to fundamentally transform conservation in South Africa.
In sharing with South Africa's most under-served populations the knowledge and practices that those of us in the rhino conservation space have learned, and in ensuring that such communities are finally given a significant seat at the table, we hope to show our fellow South Africans what we can all achieve when we approach each other with open hearts and a sincere desire to uplift each other.
Of course, giving rhino to communities is not much of a gift if it means they will be saddled with the costly job of protecting those rhino, but have no opportunity to earn income from the effort. This is a project that can only succeed if the communities are allowed to profit from their commitment.
Such profit depends upon being allowed to sell the rhino horn to consumers overseas. As Lawrence Mogakane of the organisation People and Parks says of the horn received by the community in the video below, "What we want to do is to convert this into cash."
The work to get such trade underway, and to empower our communities through conservation-based economic opportunity, continues and is addressed in more depth here.
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