Today started like any other day on Lalibela. Pristine landscapes teaming with game, completely self-sustaining, but managed and monitored.

That was about to change……

A routine fence check picked up what was obviously an incursion into the game Reserve. Our first in over 2300 days of monitoring. With an escalating sense of foreboding we set off to account for our rhino. Shortly thereafter our worst fears were confirmed with the gruesome discovery of 3 carcasses. Brutally murdered, with their faces senselessly hacked off. “75” as she was affectionately known was a poster child for our conservation successes. She was the first of a recently translocated crash of rhino to give birth on Lalibela. Her young heifer calf, which along with her older heifer sibling, were the future matriachs of multiple offspring, born into an organization determined to retard and reverse the degradations of poaching.

Words cannot come close to describing the outrage one feels. This magnificent animal with her 2 daughters, butchered, for what?! A lump of mattered hair essentially of no practical use to anyone but the rhino itself. A mythical lump of keratin much prized in the East, medicinally inert but with the power to corrupt beyond any other commodity on earth. A commodity both priceless and useless at the same time. Outrage and a terrible, heart wrenching sadness that we as a species have stooped this low. Who does this? How do you reconcile the stupendous greed and inhumanity that would bring us to this point?

Something has to change. Couch sympathy is no longer a luxury we can afford. People need to get angry. Angry people shape Government thinking and only then can we get the kind of global focus we need to save this species. We as Lalibela and, similar rhino custodians, have spent ourselves into the red in an attempt to save some, but we can’t do it alone. Open debates about legal trade, open channels for demand reduction, open dialogue with recipient nations, bring pressure to bear from whatever sources we can. Regardless of which side of these contentious fences you currently sit, believe me when I tell that the most tangible truth in rhino conservation, is that what we are currently doing is not working. Not at all. So throw aside your current moralistic prejudices and at least entertain the alternatives. If we do not, believe me when I tell you, Rhinoceros in the wild will be extinct. Iconic, prehistoric precents of story books and ageing photographs. This isn’t just someone else’s fight anymore. This is your fight too.

Tomorrow, we will work through the nauseating forensics to at least gather whatever evidence we can that may help put the shooters in jail. Then tomorrow we will get back in the trenches and do all we can to save the rest of our burgeoning little population. What are you going to do for rhino tomorrow ? That’s tomorrow. Today I am just furious and deeply, deeply sad.

Rob Gradwell
General Manager
Lalibela Game Reserve