Anglia Ruskin student highlights plight of African rhinos

Published: 22 June 2011 at 10:41

Photography project focuses on the work of new anti-poaching teams

An Anglia Ruskin University student has spent time photographing the work of South Africa’s armed anti-poaching teams to highlight the issue of illegal rhino hunting.

Tony Ellis, a third-year BA (Hons) Photography student, was embedded with a unit working in the Kruger National Park, which covers an area of over 7,300 square miles.

Poaching hit an all-time high in 2010 with an estimated 333 rhinos killed last year in South Africa alone. At the current rate the black rhino is expected to become extinct within nine years and it is feared that the entire species could be wiped out by 2025.

“My trip to South Africa was an eye-opening experience. The extinction of the rhino is almost certain now, it’s just a matter of time,”

said 31-year-old Tony, who lives in the Hills Road area of Cambridge.

“With poaching attracting sophisticated criminal networks using helicopters, night-vision, tranquilizers and silencers to kill rhinos at night, the challenge faced by game parks and reserves is huge.

“These new levels of organisation and resources have never before been seen in poaching syndicates and, in response, a new attitude to law enforcement is emerging.”

The Ranger that Tony accompanied was formerly a member of South Africa’s special forces and, despite leading a team of 20, he admitted that his current mission is the toughest of his career, not least because of the corruption that takes place.

“Those caught poaching commonly get a warning or a 150 rand (£14) fine from the local police, which is not a major deterrent,”

explained Tony, who left a job in software sales to fulfil his ambition of becoming a professional photographer.

“The majority of the firearms are traced back to the police and it is believed that this is the main source of illegal weapons trading. This cooperation between poachers and corrupt police explains the ineffective ‘warnings’ and very low fines that arrested poachers face.”

The problem of poaching is fuelled by simple economics, with rhino horn commonly being sold for up to £22,000 per kilo. It was originally used in the manufacture of handles for daggers and cutlery, but the high price is now due to its demand in China and Vietnam for use in traditional medicine.

“The Ranger told me that the guys who are taking the highest risk by tracking the rhinos and then killing them, see about 25,000 rand (around £2,300),”

added Tony.

“The fact that this beautiful and incredibly valuable animal shares the land with a local population who can be living on less than 50p per day, you begin to see the motivation for these people.

“There’s no evidence of the effectiveness of using rhino horn in medicine and apparently it’s virtually identical in make-up to human finger nails. My dream after graduation is to travel to China and Vietnam to work on photographing the other side of this criminal infrastructure.”