South African sisters ride for rhinos

10 July 2015

Two sisters from Cape Town, Vanessa and Victoria Wiesenmaier, are cycling 6 000km from China to Singapore to save rhinos. They set off in April, and yesterday were speeding along the Mekong.

They have called their campaign Buy No Rhino, taken from the Wildaid slogan: “When the buying stops, the killing can too.”

“We will be travelling through Vietnam, China and Thailand, the main consumer markets driving the demand for rhino horn,” say the sisters. “Especially in these countries we want to reach the people! Even if we cannot change a whole culture, we will sow a seed of change.”

Only with demand reduction will the rhino have a chance of survival, say Vanessa (30) and Victoria (35).

Extinction threat

The two African rhino species, the black rhino and the white rhino, are threatened by poaching. If the development of the past years continues it is expected that the rhino will become extinct in the near future. The war against rhino poaching will be won in Asia, not in Africa, they say of their decision to take the fight to the market.

The poaching of rhinos has reached a crisis point, they say. Designed to raise awareness of the plight of the rhino, the Buy No Rhino Bike Tour, is taking the sisters through China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and, finally, Singapore. Along the way, they are urging consumers to stop buying rhino horn.

Vietnam, China and Thailand are the main consumer markets for rhino horn. For their campaign, the Wiesenmaiers are working with Project Rhino KZN, partners of the Kingsley Holgate Foundation, to educate youth in hopes of curbing the demand for rhino horn.

In Vietnam, the sisters teamed-up with Operation Game Change, a joint alliance between the governments of the United States and Vietnam aimed at ending wildlife crime, especially rhino horn.

Save our rhinos

They give presentations at various stages along the way, promoting discussion on rhino poaching, rhino horn trafficking and how to stop the global urgent issue. They are also rolling out a Rhino Art project at schools and collecting signatures for the World Youth Wildlife Declaration, which will be presented to the Cites 2016 summit in Cape Town.

According to the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, the number of rhinos poached in South Africa is spiking, with 1 215 poached in 2014 – up from 1 004 in 2013 and 668 in 2012. Operation Game Change says this is a rise from just 122 rhinos poached five years earlier.

The Wiesenmaiers said the poaching of rhinoceroses was gruesome, Voice of America reported. Poachers tranquilised the animal and then cut off the horn. When the rhino woke up it slowly bled to death.

In Asia, consumers buy horn products they believe cure everything from cancer to hangovers. At tens of thousands of dollars per kilogram, the horns are a luxury item sometimes given to bosses and officials. “To know that these animals are killed for pure greed and money, for some funny belief that the horn is a status symbol, that’s a tragedy,’ said Victoria.

Personal issue

Speaking from the Laos-Vietnam border, she told Voice of America the issue was personal. A friend in South Africa had four of the six rhinos on his reservation slaughtered; he decided to leave the carcasses out so that people could see the results of poaching.

“We saw live rhinos before that, so to see this crumbled, dead thing, it was really shocking, it was disgusting.”

Vietnam is the biggest consumer of rhino horns in the world, and on their journey, Vanessa and Victoria are targeting schools, where they give a presentation about the harms of the horn trade, hold a discussion and then have students create artwork on the topic.

It is hoped the children will be more open-minded and pass on the message to their parents. Vietnamese businessmen, celebrities, and state officials are “the strongest driver of the current rhino poaching crisis”, according to a 2013 report by wildlife group Traffic.

South Africa and Vietnam are the key countries involved in the supply and demand sides of the rhino trade, respectively.

SAinfo reporter