Tanya Farber, Times Live | January 17, 2020
“In my laptop bag were two packets of shaved rhinoceros horn. Two plastic Ziploc bags, the kind shopkeepers use when they bank a day’s cash takings. Ounce for ounce, the shavings were as valuable as gold, and far more valuable than drugs.”
These are the words of conservationist Grant Fowlds in his new book, Saving the Last Rhinos.
Fowlds smuggled the shavings from Vietnam back to SA to have them tested, as he wanted proof that “South African horn was being sold openly in Vietnam” and that it crossed airport borders easily.
“I felt sick to my stomach, yet it was a moment of cold clarity. The eco-wars were to become the focus of my life,” he said.
According to the environmental affairs department, in 2016 the number of rhinos poached in SA stood at 1,054, and over the past nine years 6,100 have been poached.
This leaves fewer than 19,000 white and 2,000 black rhinos in the country. “The situation is critical,” said Fowlds, who grew up on a farm in the Eastern Cape.
His work has taken him to auctions with a hidden camera, to the front lines where armed poachers crawl under cover of night, and to the offices of government officials in many African countries to work on game reintroduction and sustainable tourism.
While his family tried to school him in hunting and right-wing politics, he hated being in the classroom and was more interested in his cattle and goats.
Speaking to Times Select, he said: “As a boy living in the bush in the Eastern Cape, I saw how you eventually get brainwashed into Western civilisation. But I always had my goats and when the other guys were doing sports tour I was going to shows with my goats.
“The guys working for my dad would come via the school and pick me up, and off to the goat show we would go. I had 800 cattle and 1,500 goats and I knew every single one by name.”
Fowlds has just returned from Angola, where government officials have been picking his brain.
“We lost 100,000 elephants there and there are only 3,000 left. They are dealing with the aftermath of a civil war, the Savimbi era, and so many people dying. Oil has collapsed and the economy is crying out for conservation and they have realised they need experts,” he said.
Fowlds has worked in wildlife management for two decades. His family farm became part of the Amakhala Game Reserve, where indigenous wildlife has been reintroduced.
He also spreads awareness in schools and says he has reached 600,000 children but hopes to make it a million.