A new chapter in the long-running feud between South Africa, Namibia and the black rhinoceros is about to begin, and as readers will expect, I am on top of it. Black rhinos have had the upper hand in this battle for the last few decades due to laws against hunting them. These laws were passed in the 1970s after studies showed a serious decline in the numbers of black rhinos in the wild; there have been calls for independent investigations into possible manipulation of the data used to draw those conclusions, based on reports of suspiciously horn-shaped imprints in several of the population figures, but these calls have gone unanswered. Today, however, the world of the black rhino goes topsy-turvy:
(BBC) Namibia and South Africa are each to be allowed to kill and export five black rhinoceros per year. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) will also allow the two nations to increase their exports of leopard products.
"What the fuck," say the leopards. "How did we get dragged into this?" But the real effect can be seen on the streets of Namibia and South Africa, where the first rays of hope have begun to shine for people long accustomed to rhinos acting with impunity. Charitable organizations will now, one assumes, initiate efforts to provide each and every one of the villagers with their very own pen and pad of paper, enabling these besieged individuals to strike back at the rhinos by writing the names of those rhinos down on the paper for possible inclusion among the five. As Hemingway wrote, the rhinoceros has one fear, and it is lists; it is time for the black rhino to fear again...or is it?
Each country will be allowed to export products from five animals only each year, and they must all be elderly males. The application was supported by the scientists and technocrats of the Cites Secretariat, who believe that taking elderly males can actually help herds to expand.
And with that, the game is revealed. The depth of rhinocerosian ruthlessness is unparalleled. Under the guise of conservation, the younger rhinos have sold out their elders; the rhinocerous is famous for being the only animal in nature that borrows against its own future, but this represents a new low, a profoundly desperate gambit. By shifting blame for their declining population from hunters to their own elders, the black rhinos may believe they are forming a detente of sorts with the hunters. You can be un-villified, they say, and you can have our parents, too, and we will carry on as we did before. But do the black rhinos truly believe that this fragile peace can last? That, for the sacrifice of a few old rhinos, the rock-and-roll nineties can last a little bit longer? That they can charge, horns held high, ever and always onward, and for the force of their feet upon the ground, the sun will wait in its horizon until they arrive?