Robin Swithinbank, British GQ | May 17, 2021
Judging by the look on Kevin Pietersen’s face, he’s either about to face a 90mph ball or something’s really bothering him. “It’s a gun battle out there,” he says, his words punched through his teeth. “It’s shocking, shocking, shocking. There’s so much greed and corruption. It’s blood money.”
England cricket’s swashbuckling former run machine has always spoken his mind, but on this occasion he’s not talking about the sport that made him famous. Instead, he’s describing the crisis facing the rhino, which, according to the World Wildlife Fund, is critically endangered.
Pietersen, who was born in South Africa and whose clipped tones now accompany cricket television coverage around the world, was so troubled by the decline in the species that in 2018 he set up SORAI, Save Our Rhinos Africa & India.
A year later, he partnered with Hublot – for whom he’s an ambassador – to create a limited-edition watch to raise funds for the non-profit conservation organisations SORAI supports. Today, the pair have come together again to announce a second watch, the Hublot Big Bang Unico SORAI.
“We’re doing this to stop what’s happening, to create some noise around the issues,” says Pietersen. “There’s complete devastation. We’ve lost two-thirds of the world’s rhino population over the last ten years. And it doesn’t need to happen.”
The fight is with poachers, who prize rhino horn for its use in traditional medicine and its value as a status symbol in some cultures. The horn is now said to be more valuable than gold, platinum or diamonds. Poaching, particularly in Pietersen’s native South Africa, has been a problem for decades, but the current picture is worse than it’s been for years.
He reels off figures published in the South African National Parks 2020 report that show that, since 2011, Kruger National Park’s white rhino population has plummeted by 67 per cent. The park’s black rhino population, down 35 per cent, stood at just 268 when the report was released. The charity Save The Rhino believes one rhino is killed every day. You don’t need to be a mathematician to work out how quickly the population could be wiped out if that’s true.
Pietersen fears the picture will have worsened in the last year. “At the start of the pandemic, when there was a global lockdown, numbers were great because there was no human interference,” he says. “But as soon as lockdown stopped, the animals started to get battered. In South Africa, they don’t have a furlough scheme. Big corporations have started to cut and get rid of people and the tourism industry is flat on its face. So antipoaching teams are reduced and poachers come in. It’s really bad there at the moment.”
There’s plenty of evidence to indicate that the gun battles Pietersen describes are real. The Last Horns Of Africa, an award-winning feature documentary that follows the extraordinary story of the rhino conservationists putting their lives on the line, details the militarisation of the antipoaching operation and their fight to expose poaching syndicates. “We have had to change from a conservation-orientated person to a soldier,” says Don English, one of the heroes of the film. “There is a war going on.”
SORAI, says Pietersen, exists to help raise the profile of the rhino’s plight. Funds generated through its line of merchandise and its partnership with Hublot go straight to the organisations it supports. “This next Hublot watch will be sold through Hublot boutiques and 100 per cent of the funds raised will go direct to Care For Wild and the Centre For Wildlife Studies in India,” he says.
The Big Bang Unico SORAI is based on Hublot’s familiar chronograph and costs £19,900. It has a 45mm matte-green ceramic case and a camouflage rubber or Velcro strap. In total, 100 will be made. “I’m indebted to Hublot,” says Pietersen. “They’re such a magnificent organisation for showing such passion and driving donations directly to the source.”