In 2008, my story “That Lonely Thorn Tree” was published by Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes, (she who wrote that awesome book, Women Who Run With The Wolves”…).
SADLY, not much has changed since I wrote this story (reproduced in bold type below) in 2008- we still lose rhinos in the ongoing tide of greed surrounding their horn…more blogs (and updates from the Lowveld Rhino Trust) to follow!
Clarissa wrote then:
“That Lonely Thorn Tree”:
An Asian Obsession Funds Killing in Zimbabwe
December 3rd, 2008 By DR. CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTÉS, Assistant Editor.
From Lin, who is trying to survive in Zimbabwe. Along with others on that patch of earth, with few resources, defending against men with rifles who lust for money offered by those who sell, not cocaine, not opium, but another addictive substance: rhino horn…..
Her story arrived in my mailbox via a friend who has been to Zimbabwe many times, and knows Lin and her husband, Clive…
“That Lonely Thorn Tree”
by Lin Barrie
Tuesday 11th November, 2008.
Sometimes the hardest stories to write are the very ones that need desperately to be told,
no matter the difficulties of trying to balance emotion and fact…
Ice, the five year old daughter of Natalia, was gunned down in broad daylight yesterday. Her mother was shot to death last year….
No, these are not family members of ours, although they are as important– these are two of the many precious black and white rhinos we have lost in the Save Valley Conservancy in Zimbabwe over the last few years.
At nine thirty am on Monday the 10th, automatic rifle fire was heard by the pump house attendant on Arda Ranch, neighbouring Senuko Ranch in the Conservancy.
George Hulme and his scouts mobilized a field search to discover what they could, as did the Senuko scouts. Hours of tracking and backtracking led them onto at least six different sets of recent spoor-all illegal poachers and itinerants on Arda. They came across a freshly butchered impala in a snare and picked up numerous wire snares in their ongoing search…..
Clive, after having had no choice but to spend an infuriating morning in his office trying to manage pressing money, staff and administrative issues, all the while with his heart out there in the bush with the scouts and his distracted mind running through all the possible terrible scenarios, eventually managed to escape paperwork and meetings and traversed the Arda area in the afternoon.
Before running out of light, he found himself standing over a young buffalo, newly strangled in a snare. Probably one of the very large, tame herd of over 200 animals that we are privileged to have drinking at our water hole nightly…
Nothing conclusive was found regarding the rifle shots that day.
A total of two zebra, two buffalo and three impala, all dead in wire snares, were found by the search team. Clive came home with a murderous look in his eye…
Frustrated and deeply pessimistic about what he would find, Clive went out again early today, Tuesday, and began to systematically work out where the shots were heard from and triangulate back to areas where he knew the habitat was suitable for Black rhino…
Knowing that Sarah, a mature female who was the first Black rhino born on the Conservancy, had been seen in this area with a young calf, his dread was that he would find her, the “flagship rhino” of the Conservancy, poached and her calf dead, abandoned or mutilated….
Joined by his son Glenn and the Senuko scouts, shortly before midday they had discovered spoor of a running rhino, overlaid with blood spots and yet again overlaid by human tracks.
Within 800 metres they came upon the grisly murder scene, a female rhino crumpled onto her chest near a lone thorn tree, legs buckled under her and her face obliterated by the hacking cuts of the poachers who had removed her horns after mowing her down with automatic fire.
No sign of a calf……..and the poachers long gone on the next leg of their journey to pass the horn on to couriers who would then spirit it across the border.
Was this Sarah? She looked to be a young animal and Clive took note of her ear notches, of which Graham Connear, the Conservator, has records, enabling identification of each individual rhino.
Coming home saddened and distraught, Clive rested himself for half an hour and then we drove to meet Mark Brightman and Graham Connear on the boundary road between Senuko, Hammond and Arda, together with details of Support Unit and Chiredzi police whom Mark had picked up.
Graham confirmed that, from the ear notch data, this was not Sarah who was killed but Ice, a young female, who had not yet been known to have a calf.
Small consolation-this was not beloved Sarah, and I could see that register in Clive’s eyes, but this was still an irreplaceable loss-a young female who could have borne many babies in her lifetime. She was the daughter of Natalia, who herself was killed by poachers last year.
We drove into thorn scrub and when we reached the clearing with the one lone tree, where her body lay, I subdued my emotions, clambering out of the vehicle with heavy heart to take photographs, to sketch and to try to understand the process of what had happened in this lonely space under a thorn tree; the last breaths of a rare and special animal, the triumphant antics of the killers who had chopped out the object of their greedy desire, her horn.
Her open, staring eyes and intact ears were all that was left of her face, the rest a gaping hole of tattered flesh and busy flies. Apart from the carnage of her face, her body had been attacked… the horn poachers, or perhaps some others who had followed, had flayed sheets of skin off her forequarters and rump and buttocks to harvest meat in large quantities, leaving exposed, sun-darkened flesh, and her pathetic tail hanging intact. She lay chest down, legs crumpled beneath her, one eye hardened and sun scorched, the other eye unglazed, still seeming almost aware, protected as it was in the shade of her head.
With subdued and sad murmurings the team set to work to photograph her ear notches, locate bullet wounds and check the two microchips implanted at different times, once when she was dehorned*** last year and before that, when she was ear notched as a very young rhino.
All the while I squatted in front of her and drew her poor sad head, my mind determinedly in numb mode and my fingers moving the pencil automatically to record the tragic mess.
Graham and Mark located and followed bullet tracks with the metal detector, whilst the rest of the team cut, pushed and pulled the body as necessary to enable them to retrieve the bullets-five in all they found-two in her fore quarters and lung and three in her intestines.
The team then decided to return to where they had originally picked up her running tracks yesterday and to back track from there until they found the place where the poachers had initially confronted her. They all departed. I remained.
As silence descended I climbed onto the bonnet of the cruiser, parked under the same thorn tree that Ice lay under. As I lay there staring up through the branches into a clouded and bird less sky, I listened to the buzzing of the flies attending to the feast, smelt slow whiffs of her as yet untainted flesh, and began to let myself mourn this tragic waste, this terrible tribute to greed.
After what seemed like hours of weeping slow tears through closed eyes, drifting in and out of stressed sleep, listening to distantly approaching thunder and the twittering of Little bee eaters arriving to hawk flies at the carcass, letting my surroundings absorb me, I eventually opened my lids and stared straight up into gathering grey cumulus clouds.
Vultures had arrived. A wheeling vortex of more than forty circled, the closest, a White backed vulture, soaring at tree height over me and the furthest I could see being nearly invisible, pepper-grain specks against the massed clouds high above. A strange and enlightening sensation– I felt as if I was the object of their intent as the first bird whistled at speed in to perch on a neighbouring thorn tree, and pretended to preen busily eyeing me all the while.
I pursued my depressed thoughts, while the vulture waited and watched…no others came down, staying high aloft-were they awaiting a signal from the first? The wind freshened to a stiff breeze, scattered raindrops fell and the Vulture, buffeted about on a flimsy branch, gave up and flapped silently away. If I had not been there would they have all descended to begin their task of clearing up the remains of Ice? Perhaps the lateness of the afternoon and the threatening lightening also put them off…
European bee eaters arrived en masse, briefly dipping and chirruping above me as they picked flies out of the air and then, as quickly as they had arrived, they were gone again.
I pondered so many things lying there under that lonely tree- –the inability of our follow ups to secure convictions of known poachers, –the desperate need for information which could be served by being able to offer a reward to informers and scouts, –the dearth of effective scout bases and lack of presence on the ground in vulnerable areas, –the sheer inability of paying and feeding the extra staff needed to mount more intensive patrols and follow ups….
Dusk began to fall under that lonely thorn tree, and voices betrayed the slow steps of the returning trackers. They had found the place in thick scrub where the poachers had discovered Ice dozing peacefully, had sneaked closer, disturbed her so that she panicked and fled a short way, to stand and short-sightedly search the air for the cause of her alarm as is the wont of Black rhinos. While she stood there, undecided, confused and vulnerable, they opened murderous fire on her. Ten cartridge shells were found on that killing ground. Then, mortally wounded, she ran until she could run no more and, giving up, she collapsed under that lonely tree……..
We have lost over 30% of our breeding female Rhinos to poaching in the Save Valley Conservancy and the statistics of losses country wide are no more encouraging……. The African Wild Dog population in the Conservancy has been very badly impacted by snaring as has every other species of game such as Impala, Kudu and Wildebeests-even Giraffes and Elephants have fallen foul of indiscriminate snaring methods……Where to from here?
This oil painting of mine, on canvas, is titled “That Lonely Thorn Tree”, in response to that sad sad day……
*** dehorned; this is a practice of removing the horn of the Rhino surgically, literally with a chainsaw, thereby saving the rhinos from poachers. The horn grows back. One wonders why poachers don’t develop their own herd of rhinos and harvesst the horns every year.
See below, from “Dehorning Black Rhinos,” by Brice Eningowuk
Dehorning black rhinos helped save them from extinction in the early 1990s from poachers because the armed guards patrolling the National Parks did not prove to be effective. Another way to preserve the rhino is to find substitutes for the horns.
Black rhinos, also known as the hooked-lip rhino, were poached mainly for their horns in the early 1990s, which led to the rhinos near extinction. The black rhino once roamed the extent of Africa’s sub-continent. Now the rhinos are primarily found in Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Nimibia and Zimbabwe because of the demand for the horns. The rhino population has declined in those countries from 65,000 in the 1960s to 25,000 today (Rhino, Internet).
Rhino horns are used for pharmaceutical and ceremonial reasons in countries such as China, Taiwan, South Korea, and Thailand (Rhino, Internet).
Rhinos are also hunted for other reasons besides their valuable horns. The skin is used for skin disease, the bones are used for bone disorders, the blood is used for women with menstrual problems, and the penis is used as an aphrodisiac (Tudge, 1991, 34).
The main importing countries of rhino horn include South Korea, China, Thailand, and Taiwan. In 1987 China paid about $16,000 per kilogram, in 1988 South Korea paid $4,410 per kilogram, in 1990 Taiwan paid $4,221 and Thailand paid $10,284 per kilogram of horns (Rhino, Internet).
The Chinese have been using rhino horns for medical purposes for about 2,000 years to make remedies for flu, fever and convulsions (Tudge, 1991, 34). Chinese studies have shown that rhino horns reduce fevers in lab rats, but rhino horn does not compare to aspirin (Tudge, 1991, 38).
In Yemen the horns are carved into ceremonial dagger handles, also known as a jambiya, that men acquire after reaching manhood (Johannesburg, 1997). The country of Yemen imports 1,500 kilograms of horn each year, about half of which is used to fashion the dagger handles. Dagger handles would not seem to be a practical use because the horns are composed of hard protein and keratin compounded by hair, but when the horns are polished, they look like grained, dark, translucent, amber (Tudge, 1991, 34).
Dehorning is one method to prevent poachers from shooting a rhino. Dehorning, the process of removing the front and rear horns of a rhino (Wright, 1991, 36), is a simple procedure, although only trained professionals are allowed to practice it because of the safety for both the rhino and veterinarian. If the safety of both the rhino and the veterinarian is low, it is pointless to dehorn if the species is harmed (Atkinson, Internet). For maximum safety, veterinarians tranquilize the rhino with a tranquilizer dart fired from a rifle with the correct dosage for the size and weight of the rhino. Two veterinarians then use a handsaw or a chainsaw to cut just above the rhino’s snout to remove the horns. The veterinarians coat the remainder of the horn with tar to prevent infection. After the dehorning process there is a regrowth of the horn, so the process has to be repeated every 12-18 months (Atkinson, Internet).
The rhino is not harmed during or afterwards and no side effects have been reported (Atkinson, Internet).