Sangomas join the rhino force

[Image] A group of traditional health practitioners speak to their ancestors in an attempt to stop rhino poaching in the Kruger National Park.

[Image] Dr Sylvester Hlati and a ranger from the Kruger National Park perform a ritual.
(Image: SANParks)

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With World Rhino Day approaching on 22 September, the Kruger National Park (KNP) has joined hands with traditional health practitioners in an attempt to fight the escalating rhino poaching pandemic.

Over 500 sangomas, as they are known locally – the term comes from isiZulu – from Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces have declared their stand against rhino poaching.

According to KNP managing executive Abe Sibiya, numerous apprehended suspects have alluded that they use muti – traditional healing medicine – to avoid detection by rangers and dangerous animals. The newly-formed pact ensures that no criminals or poachers will get any muti and if they do, it would be muti that will expose them.

Calling on ancestors for help

On 31 August the traditional healers held a night vigil at Mkhuhlu stadium in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga, where they performed the necessary rituals and asked for intervention from their ancestors. They believe that through their muti they can make a contribution towards the reduction of rhino poaching in the park.

This initiative is headed by Dr Sylvester Hlati, a traditional healing veteran with 30 years’ experience, and is the first of its kind. Communities bordering the park have also come forward to publicly declare their stand against rhino poaching.

“Society cannot stand by and watch helplessly as international criminals declare war on our nation. We all need to defend our heritage with everything we have” added Sibiya.

Sibiya urged more communities to take part in anti-rhino poaching initiatives. “To the rest of us, we need to go out there and expose these selfish detractors and betrayers of our country. They live in our neighbourhoods. They are easily identifiable through their lifestyles.”

Death toll

In 2011 two species of rhino were driven virtually to extinction – the Javan rhino is now extinct in Vietnam with the remaining few, no more than 50 individuals, residing in one Indonesian national park. The West African black rhino has been completely wiped out.

The last official count of poached rhino for 2012 in South Africa stood at 373. Five years ago, in 2007, only 13 rhinos were poached in the country; the year thereafter, 83 rhinos lost their lives. In 2009, it rose to 122 deaths and since then the death toll has grown exponentially with 333 rhinos lost in 2010. Following that, a shocking number of 443 rhinos were killed in 2011.

With half of 2012 already over and more than a rhino a day falling prey to poachers, experts say that the total death count, already reaching record levels, is likely to be the worst ever recorded.

World Rhino Day 2012

September is proving to be a dedicated month to rhino activism as South Africa lines up a series of events on 22 September to mark the third annual World Rhino Day.

Durbanville Hills wine estate will host a mountain bike race, organised by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), called Race the Rhino, which will take place in Van Gaalen, Magaliesberg, Gauteng.

A three-course Save the Rhino menu with wine pairings will be held at Reuben’s at the One & Only in Cape Town, with conservationist Galeo Saintz as a guest speaker and celebrity chef Reuben Riffel in charge of the menu.

A countrywide trail running event, the Rhino Run, will be organised by trail running enthusiast Sian O’Keeffe, Thandi Rhino Injection Fund, EWT, and MyPlanet Rhino Fund to raise funds and awareness for the war on rhino poaching.

The Rhino Run will consist of five separate trail running events in Port Elizabeth, Durban, Cape Town, Gauteng and Mpumalanga respectively, each with three different routes all happening simultaneously on World Rhino Day.

The RhinoSerious campaign together with the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (Wessa) will be hosting a hosting a charity concert with evergreen local group Mango Groove at Riverside Mall in Mbombela (formerly Nelspruit) in Mpumalanga. All proceeds go to the anti-poaching units as well as various research projects conducted by Wessa.

A World Rhino Day Walk will take place in George in the Western Cape, starting on York Street, and is organised by Facebook groups Save Our Rhino and Outraged South African Citizens Against Poaching.