Written by Alex Cloete
Africa’s rhino poaching crisis began in 2008 and the world watched in awe as the number increased year on year, reaching a peak in 2015. According to Save The Rhino, the epidemic saw a total of 5,968 rhinos killed for their horns over an 8 year period. With the help of anti-poaching units and dedicated rangers, the numbers have since declined. However, with an average of 3 rhinos poached every day, there is still work that needs to be done.
The 22nd of September marks World Rhino Day and the 5th consecutive Rhino Walk in Madikwe Game Reserve – an initiative set to raise awareness on rhino conservation and leave a legacy for future generations to come. We caught up with Ezelle van Dyk, Assistant General Manager at Madikwe Hills Private Game Lodge and organizer of the Rhino Walk to give more insights on the initiative, it’s purpose and conservation efforts within Madikwe.
Ezelle van Dyk: The Rhino Walk in Madikwe Game Reserve was initiated by our former ecologist, Carlien Esterhuizen. The initiative was fuelled by a need to raise the necessary funds to start a rhino monitoring programme and support our counter poaching unit.
Ezelle van Dyk : The Rhino Walk is a scenic and informative walk that allows guests to experience Madikwe and unique flora and fauna. The walk is escorted by armed field rangers on foot, as well as field guides with game drive vehicles, through the heart of the Reserve. Guests are escorted just in case the curiosity of Madikwe’s wildlife gets the better of them or if we need to provide transport to a safe area in order for guests to continue their walk. This year there is a choice between two routes, the 3km Blue Route and the 6km Red Route. The walk will start and finish at Ambush Alley Pan, where a market will be set up for guests to purchase refreshments and interact with conservation stalls. The end of the event is signed off with our counter-poaching unit conducting a demonstration of their skills used in protecting our wildlife.
Ezelle van Dyk : Our hope is to create awareness amongst the public and raise funds to assist Rhino conservation efforts. In addition, we hope to encourage involvement in conservation and to ensure the preservation of our fauna and flora for generations to come.
Ezelle van Dyk : The funds raised have been utilized to create a monitoring system which has made Madikwe Game Reserve’s rhinos the most monitored rhino population in Africa. Aiding this, the funds have given us the opportunity to purchase security cameras – vital for monitoring purposes. In addition, we have been able to cover some veterinary expenses in treating naturally injured rhinos as well as rhinos wounded by poachers in their failed attempts to claim horns.
Ezelle van Dyk : Most people within the local communities have not set foot in Madikwe Game Reserve due to its exclusivity and high rates associated with the lodges. As a result, many community members are unaware of the conservation struggles and the importance of their contribution. By involving local communities in conservation efforts, we can encourage small changes such as lifestyle adjustments and lead by example in preserving our planet. In addition, by involving the community with the Rhino Walk and making it accessible to the public, we create the opportunity to educate people on how to contribute to conservation and spread awareness. Lastly, our hope is that the Rhino Walk creates a sense of pride amongst the local community in realising the essential roles they play in preserving Madikwe Game Reserve.
Ezelle van Dyk:
Ezelle van Dyk : I grew up on a farm in the North West province of South Africa in a similar biome as Madikwe Game Reserve, the only difference was the biggest animal on our farm was a Brahman bull which is ten times smaller than an elephant. From a very young age my parents taught us to appreciate and respect our fauna and flora. In high school, I had the opportunity to attend a Nature Conservation Camp presented by the Pretoria University of Technology and loved every moment of it. My interest in conservation led me to Madikwe and the beauty of the bush inspired me to qualify as a field guide and enabled me to experience my own adventures and the importance of conservation as a whole. During my 16 years in Madikwe, I have met so many wonderful people who call Madikwe home. Equally passionate, with a kindled love for Madikwe which only we can understand, and no words can describe.
Ezelle van Dyk : Absolutely! We have already seen progress since the first Rhino Walk in 2015. We learn from every Rhino Walk and react pro-actively to the feedback we receive from guests attending. Four years after our first walk, we now have guests pre-booking accommodation specifically to attend the annual Rhino Walk for 2020. Bookings like these attribute to the community as a whole and demonstrate the growth of this initiative.
Ezelle van Dyk : Ultimately, the more people we have at hand to contribute to conservation, the better the results will be. Conservation is not a gender orientated effort and I would like to encourage all women to get involved.