In the yellowing savannah of this early autumn, a gray mass suddenly appears at the turn of a dirt road. A mother rhinoceros and her calf, frightened by the car that has just appeared, immediately flee. “Oh this one is very pregnant! comments in a hoarse voice John Hume, the owner of the place.
On this private reserve of 8,400 hectares live nearly 2,000 white rhinos, or 13% of the world population of the species, which is mainly found in South Africa. The result of 30 years of efforts to protect and reproduce this species classified as “near threatened”.
John Hume, who made his fortune developing tourist resorts, became interested in rhinos when he bought a ranch for his retirement. “I realized that of all the animals in Africa, they have the least chance of survival,” he says. “Here we are 30 years later, with 2000 rhinos but short of money. »
He pleads to legalize the sale of horn
John Hume has been claiming to be on the verge of bankruptcy for years. After unsuccessfully looking for investors, he decided to auction the entire project. “The project is a great success. But the problem is that it is not viable,” explains Tammy Hume, his daughter-in-law and organizer of the sale. “John looked at a lot of different ways to fund it and it didn’t work out. »
John Hume has become a very controversial figure for his commitment to the legalization of the sale of horns. Like most rhino owners, he cuts them regularly: a measure of protection against poachers, but also a fortune that lies dormant in secure sheds. Prized in Southeast Asia for their purported medicinal properties, rhino horn sells on the black market for up to $60,000 a kilo. John Hume accumulated 10 tons.
The essential role of private farms
For some NGOs and the government, this is speculation, while he believes that legalization will eliminate poaching. It is not so simple: in 2008, an exceptional sale of ivory authorized for the same reasons, according to experts, unintentionally led to an increase in demand, and the acceleration of poaching of elephants. There is therefore the fear of similar consequences for rhinos.
Sometimes accused of transforming rhinos into livestock, private reserves are becoming central to the preservation of the species. While national parks, particularly the Kruger, have been decimated, more than half of rhinos are now in private hands, says conservation scientist Hayley Clements in a January 2023 study. less and less viable for owners with commercial objectives, and more difficult for most rhino keepers because of the rising costs of protection against poaching. »
Armed guards and helicopter
On the Hume ranch, these expenses represent 2.5 million rand per month (€125,000), half of the operating costs of the structure. Armed guards, video surveillance, thermal cameras and helicopter, thanks to this device, no rhinoceros has been poached for 7 years. John Hume announced in 2022 that he would now be able to sell 100 rhinos per year for their reintroduction into the wild. The offer found no takers.
In his brick household in the middle of the ranch, John Hume now hopes that a deeper-pocketed conservationist billionaire can take over the entire project. “It’s cheaper than their yachts!” he pleads. The door is also open to NGOs and governmental organizations ready to disburse the minimum of 10 million dollars. Online auctions will close on May 1, World Rhino Conservation Day.
White rhinos are historically a big South African success story, in terms of conservation. Before the poaching crisis, the country had managed, in 100 years, to go from less than 50 individuals to more than 20,000.