Before setting up Helping Rhinos, CEO Simon Jones worked for American Express for 24 years. He always had a passion for wildlife conservation, and in particular rhinos, but his eventual move into full time conservation took several years! I asked Simon what prompted him to make such a drastic change in his life:
“In 2010 I spent six weeks on a conservation project at Kariega Game Reserve in South Africa. It was a time where I learned a lot about wildlife conservation and had the opportunity to observe a newborn white rhino calf as he struggled to keep up with his Mum. Sadly, just three months later, his Mum was killed by poachers and the little calf didn’t survive without a Mum to care for him.
It was two years later in March 2012 when the poachers attacked once again, and this time I was compelled to act! I founded Helping Rhinos and my life would never be the same again – in a good way!”
The March, 2012 poaching on the Kariega Game Reserve resulted in two dead rhinos and one hanging on for life, their horns brutally removed with machetes. The surviving female endured numerous operations for two years, including pioneering skin graft surgery under the care of wildlife veterinarian Dr. William Fowlds. The rhino was so brave she earned the name Thandi, which means ‘courage’ and ‘to be loved’ in the local isiXhosa language.
Thandi was the first rhino to ever survive a poaching attack. She has since gone on to have three calves, true miracle babies! Supporters can adopt Thandi and her calves to help provide the care and protection they need to stay safe from the poachers. (https://www.helpingrhinos.org/adopt-thandi/).
Since its inception, Helping Rhinos has raised over £1,000,000 to help protect rhinos in their natural habitat:
“With the simple aim ‘to make a difference’ the initial goals for the organisation was to help raise awareness of the rhino poaching crisis internationally and to raise funds to help wherever possible.
The principles of Helping Rhinos have remained the same, but the size of the goal has grown. In 2014 we were delighted to welcome world renowned cycling commentator, Phil Liggett MBE as our Patron and Phil has since been joined by a number of other Patrons including UK actor Peter Egan, award winning wildlife artist Karen Laurence-Row and TV wildlife presenter Giles Clark.
Helping Rhinos prides itself in applying an innovative and forward-thinking approach to conservation and is delivering a positive change in the fortunes of the rhino. Critical to the long-term success of rhino conservation is our original approach which centres around three focus areas: collaborate, empower and sustain.
Helping Rhinos has continued to grow. We have an adoption program where people can adopt an orphan rhino, an anti-poaching dog or a northern white rhino, or sponsor a Black Mamba who are an all female anti-poaching unit. We have merchandise that people can purchase. We have also launched a coffee brand called HORNi, where people can purchase delicious coffee that is ethically sourced and supports Africa’s wildlife.
We also arrange events throughout the year to raise awareness and funds. We have a Spring Talk at the Royal Geographical Society on the 2nd April 2020 at which vet Dr William Fowlds (who treated Thandi) will be speaking along with anti-poaching pilot Siseko Mayinje and Lindy Sutherland of Kariega Foundation.”
Helping Rhinos distributes the funds they raise to several carefully chosen projects in the field. These projects are chosen to further the goal of ensuring a positive and sustainable future for rhino as a species.
Rhinos have roamed the earth for around 50 million years. There are five different species of rhino:
“Populations of southern white rhino have recovered from an all time low of around 100 in the 1950’s to the current population of around 20,170. However there are only two northern white rhinos left in the world, they are mother and daughter, Najin and Fatu and they live at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, one of Helping Rhinos projects. Najin and Fatu sadly have to live under armed guard.
In the 1970s there were around 65,000 black rhino however now there are less are around 5,500 black rhino left in the world and they are critically endangered.
In Asia there are around 72 Javan rhino, less than 80 Sumartran rhino and around 3,333 greater one horned rhinos. There is currently an initiative to try and locate all the Sumatran rhino to a sanctuary to encourage natural breeding. This is an enormous undertaking as they are spread out over two national parks, are the smallest of the five species of rhinos and are adept at hiding in the Indonesian jungles.
The total population of rhino left on earth is therefore fewer than 30,000. Three of the five rhino species in the world are listed as critically endangered, facing extinction and if we don’t take action now, we could lose them forever.”
Rhino are an umbrella species and are vital to the preservation of so many other species and vegetation. If rhino becomes extinct, so many other species will also suffer. Rhino are gentle giants and have no natural predators except for humans. There are two ongoing threats to rhino, poaching for their horns and habitat loss due to the ever increasing human population:
“Rhino poaching has increased beyond belief in recent years. In South Africa alone the number of rhino killed by poachers has increased from just 13 in 2007 (which is 13 too many) to a record high of 1,215 in 2014, which is a 9,346% increase in just seven years! Rhino are being poached for their horn which is shipped to destination markets, with Vietnam and China said to be the largest importers in the illegal trade of horn. Rhino horn is made from keratin, just like our hair and finger nails; it has no medicinal value. Presently a rhino is being poached every 10 hours for its horn.
Sadly the rate of poaching has tipped beyond the rate at which rhinos can reproduce. Rhinos have a long gestation period of around 16 months and calves stay with their mothers until they are between three and four-years-old. Rhinos cannot reproduce at a fast enough rate to outweigh the current rate of poaching.
Habitat loss is a threat facing so many of the planet’s wildlife, including the rhino. One of our biggest challenges is to find solutions that allow wild spaces to benefit both human and wildlife and to avoid a competition between ourselves and the animals.
However, we do have hope that we can all make a difference. The price of rhino horn as a commodity has reduced slightly and the poaching rates in 2019 and 2018 were slightly lower than 2017. There is still a lot to do to help rhinos.
Everyone can play their part in helping rhino by raising awareness, talking about rhino and their plight, fundraising, adopting a rhino or buying some delicious coffee. Details of all of our programmes and events can be found on our website www.helpingrhinos.org and www.horni.org.uk.”
I asked Simon why it is important to protect the rhino:
“It is an understandable question given that the rhino is all the way in Africa or Asia. But the answer is relatively simple and is in two parts. The rhino is one of the planet’s megaherbivores, and as such it is responsible for maintaining healthy ecosystems in the areas where it still roams. We know that these wild spaces play a vital role in the global climate, and at a time where climate change is such a global issue, we can say with confidence that if we lost one more of these megaherbivores (such as rhino and elephant) the impact on the global climate would be huge.
Secondly, there are millions of species of both fauna and flora currently threatened with extinction, the rhino being just one of them. But the rhino is one of the most iconic and well loved, so if we can’t save a species that receives a lot of publicity and international headlines, what hope do we have of saving the other species that no one talks about?
People around the world have a part to play. The first step is to help organisations like Helping Rhinos to raise awareness of the plight of the rhino. Look at our website and social media and if you see something you find interesting then tell your friends about it. This way we are spreading the word more effectively.
The reality is that conservation programs operating on the ground need funding and the international community has a vital role to play in helping to provide this funding. Support organisations like Helping Rhinos by doing your own fundraising activities in aid of us. We promise to spend every dollar raised wisely and ensure it will have maximum impact in protecting rhino in their natural habitat.”
I firmly believe in looking forward and focusing on the future. We cannot change the past, so learn from it but don’t dwell on what has gone. Be positive and have an open mind and find your passion. Everyone can make a difference in one way or another. – Simon Jones