Book Talk: The Rhino Keepers
With three rhinos slaughtered every two days in South Africa, the battle to keep these unique animals alive has gone from urgent to desperate. The Rhino Keepers, written by Clive and Anton Walker, offers a personal and detailed account of the mountainous challenges that stand between conservationists and a flourishing rhino population.
‘That one of the world’s most magnificent creatures is reduced, once again, to endless argument is an indictment of our inability to prevent its extinction. What will history say of us if we allow it to happen?’ – The Rhino Keepers, page 183.
Caravan & Outdoor Life: What inspired you both to get involved with wildlife conservation?
Clive Walker: At the age of eight I got to ride on the back of an Indian elephant at the Johannesburg Zoo, and from that moment I was completely smitten. As for my son, Anton, he was born into a world of wildlife: from the tender age of two he was taken on visits to the Kruger Park and the Tuli Block. He and his brother, Renning, helped their father collect the dung of African mammals from 1971, a process which resulted in the publishing of Signs of the Wild back in 1982.
COL: The personal experiences that you recount in the book speak of both challenges and triumphs. What kept you active in wildlife conservation and specifically rhino conservation when the fight really got tough?
CW: I founded the Endangered Wildlife Trust in 1973 with the support of my wife, Conita, and some great friends. The very purpose of the trust was centred around conserving endangered wildlife. We learned very quickly how tough the battle could be, whether it was the rhino, cheetah or any other species that was being threatened with extinction.
COL: Do either of you have a specific memory of a rhino encounter or wildlife experience that inspired you to keep on fighting?
CW: There have been numerous encounters over the years, but one that stands out quite vividly for me is the mindless slaying of our four-year-old tame black rhino female in 2008, all for her small horn. It was a horrific thing to see – just so unnecessary.
COL: What did you hope to achieve by writing such a personal and emotive book?
CW: We want to create a greater awareness and appreciation of these often misunderstood animals. There are several myths out there, some completely outrageous, and we want to set the record straight and dispel many of the inaccuracies that surround rhinos. Our hope is that the book will inspire all who are responsible for the survival of rhino – conservationists, wildlife enthusiasts and the public, in both Asia and Africa – and we urge them in particular to read the last few paragraphs on page 183. We desperately need a solution to this rapidly increasing poaching crisis.
COL: What do you think sets your story apart from other wildlife stories?
CW: This publication is the first to deal with the South African situation regarding rhino, which has global significance. South Africa is in the spotlight over the unacceptable levels of illegal rhino poaching and we need to show the world that, as a unified force, we can overcome it.
COL: What elements of the bush do you love? Is there something that every visitor to the African bush should experience?
CW: One of the most special experiences one can have in the bush is to experience an African dawn in wild country with like-minded friends.
COL: What is your favourite time of day to be out and about among the animals?
CW: Having run wilderness trails for close on 22 years, any time to be in the bush is just perfect for me.
COL: If you could give the public one piece of advice, or rectify one misperception about rhinos and the state of their numbers and population, what would it be?
CW: The list is endless. In fact, that is the focal point of many chapters in our book. The Rhino Keepers details and underscores the enormous challenges faced in a world where rhino horn is more expensive than gold or cocaine. We hope that whoever reads the book will be made more acutely aware of the truth behind this terrible situation.
COL: What is your opinion on legalising the trade in rhino horn?
CW: My personal opinion is not of vital importance. What is crucial, we believe, is that the book should raise pertinent questions, look at both sides of the story and stimulate thought and debate about how best to ensure the long-term survival of the rhino.
COL: What are your hopes for the future of our black and white rhinos?
CW: We are encouraged by the massive groundswell of outrage among ordinary South Africans at the events that have occurred over the past five years and their determination to support every effort to halt the killing. Extinction is not and will not be an option.