Friday, January 6, 2012

Save the Rhinos (and RINOs)

Note: I wrote the following for FrumForum this morning — just before learning that FF is closing down.

My wife and I attended a cousin’s wedding in Cape Town, South Africa at year-end and added some time to be tourists in a country we’d never visited. The sites we saw ranged from the black township of Khayelitsha (on a van tour led by a local), where brick houses are slowly replacing tin shacks, to the well-manicured grounds of an elite high school (where our cousin-by-marriage was one of the first two colored, or mixed-race, students upon desegregation in the early 1990s; he studied particularly hard to show academic standards were not slipping on his account, and became valedictorian).

We spent the trip’s closing days at the Aquila Private Game Reserve, a sprawling site two hours’ drive from Cape Town. There, amid many other animals, we saw the southern white rhinoceros in its native habitat. The five rhinos on the reserve were all females, the site’s two males having been killed gruesomely by poachers in August. Rhino horn, valued for putative medicinal properties, makes a lucrative illegal trade in China, Vietnam and elsewhere.

Now, as a FrumForum contributor, I have been called a RINO (Republican in Name Only) and even taken a liking to that term (while scorning the RINO-baiters’ presumption of defining who’s a Republican). The magnificence of real-life rhinos gives the RINO label a cachet that defeats its derisive purpose.

The rhinos’ plight, unfortunately, is a severe one. Africa’s western black rhino has been declared extinct in the wild, and East Asia’s Javan rhino is close to meeting the same fate. As formidable as rhinos look, they have little defense against poachers carrying weapons and chainsaws (to cut off the horns, often leaving the animals alive and in agony).

At night, from our cabin at the Aquila reserve, we saw distant headlights of the security patrols that follow rhinos to protect against poachers. It’s a dangerous business, in which the armed “anti-poachers” easily can be targeted themselves.

Private reserves such as Aquila have been a valuable supplement to Africa’s national parks; the latter have military protection but are vulnerable to budget pressures and corruption. The private reserves, though, need stepped-up security. In response to the August attack, Aquila launched an initiative called “Saving Private Rhino,” to develop funding and support for measures including high-tech surveillance systems; rewards for informants; GPS tracking of microchips in rhino horns; educational centers and more.

Defending rhinos through private property rights and innovative technologies is a cause that should appeal to the conservative imagination, and it’s one that resonates with the longstanding conservationist tradition of Republicans such as Theodore Roosevelt. Let RINOs help protect rhinos and ensure their survival through the 21st century.

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