Rhino Art

Ian Player

Project Rhino and the Kingsley Holgate Foundation joined forces in April 2013 for the Izintaba Zobombo Expedition, which traversed the Lubombo Mountain Range that forms South Africa’s border with Mozambique, from Zimbabwe in the north to the Indian Ocean.

This region is home to the largest concentration of wild rhinos in the world.

The expedition travelled through the Kruger National Park and nearby private reserves, across the fence line into the ‘Rhino War Zone’ of Mozambique and Parc Nacional do Limpopo, and south through the nature reserves of Swaziland and northern KwaZulu-Natal.

And so began the most comprehensive youth-orientated survey on rhino poaching ever carried out in Southern Africa. Using art and soccer, the Rhino Art-Let the Children’s Voices Be Heard campaign has now reached over 500,000 young people mainly throughout southern and central Africa with a rhino conservation message that encourages them to voice their thoughts about rhino poaching. It involves local communities that are at times silent witnesses to the rhino poaching war, increases conservation awareness amongst the youth and adds to the groundswell of public support needed to end rhino poaching and other wildlife crimes.

Also in 2013, the campaign was showcased at the President Joaquim Chissano Wildlife Crime Initiative launch in Mozambique and its Children’s Voices video was shown on Vietnamese national TV.

In May 2014, the Rhino Art campaign was introduced to Vietnam reaching 4,900 students in twenty secondary and high schools in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Six of these Rhino Art participants attended the World Youth Rhino Summit and became youth wildlife ambassadors for Vietnam; they continue to speak out against the slaughter of Africa’s rhinos and call for an end to consumer demand.

At the 2014 Rhino Conservation Awards, Rhino Art-Let the Children’s Voices Be Heard was recognised by the Game Rangers Association of Africa for its Education & Community Awareness efforts.

Key Objective

Rhino Art – Let the Children’s Voices be Heard is considered to be the most successful youth-art conservation initiative ever undertaken. Its clear objective is to gather the largest number of Children’s Art Voices ever recorded in support of rhino conservation and to use these ‘hearts and minds’ messages from the youth as a worldwide call to action against rhino poaching.

5 Key Success Factors of the project

Access to schools and direct engagement – the project is a passport to talk with youth in relevant communities;
Promotes goodwill – community relationship building between the conservation sector, game reserves & communities;
Rhino education – the exciting visual and experiential learning process makes it memorable;
Collects messages from youth in grass roots communities – used as a call to action with decision makers (Project Rhino’s #LetOurVoicesBeHeard initiative);
Initiates a lifelong passion for wildlife and conservation in a cost effective way – positive return on investment for donors and project partner


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Paul Dutton and Grant Fowlds of RhinoArt
Richard bringing RhinoArt to Zululand schools

Rhino Ambassadors


Rhino Ambassador


Paul Dutton 

“The main theme of this initiative is a “diplomatic purge” to break the demand chain from the poachers right through to those using the horn”

“I’ve just returned from the USA after delivering tributes to Dr Ian Player for his rhino crusade and philanthropist Greg Carr for his restoration project in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park, My sponsors were Maggie O’Bryan and  US Wild Foundation CEO Vance Martin .  I also addressed a group of graduates from Shenandoah University who responded enthusiastically to my suggestion that they become Rhino Ambassadors. Taking this further I’ve started designing a certificate for other learning institutions worldwide (including Indochina). To show its authenticity I am approaching a number of NGOs like the GRAA etc for their endorsements.

Rhino are prehistoric giants that lived all over the earth for 100,000’s of years, including in all parts of Africa.  They were once abundant throughout Africa and Asia with an approximated worldwide population of 500 000 in the early twentieth century. South Africa is now home to the largest remaining population of rhinoceroses in the world.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), it was estimated that South Africa had 20,711 rhino in 2010. To date, 5000 rhino have been lost to poaching. These are extremely sobering, frightening statistics; three rhino are now being killed per day, and if the killing continues at this rate we could see rhino deaths overtaking births in 2016-2018, meaning rhinos could go extinct in the very near future.

Rhino poaching is predominantly driven by the illegal trade in rhino horn to satisfy the growing demand in Vietnam and China.

To stop the current plunder of our natural heritage game rangers are working night and day in South Africa in what has become a declaration of war against poachers using sophisticated military weapons. Finding animals bleeding to death after having had their horns hacked off is causing serious physiological strain on the field rangers and poachers becoming more brazen .

NGO fundraisers and conservation organisations, social media sites, and rhino orphanages are also working hard to publicize the plight of the rhino. .Becoming a Rhino Ambassador is about raising awareness and working to educate yourself and other people about the importance of saving rhino. We want to build a greater understanding of the role that everyone can play. We have a deep longing to preserve this keystone species, and everything that supports it’s survival in the natural world. Far too often we separate ourselves from our origins; the original connection to Africa within all of us, and rhinos represent that connection. If we can save a species, then we’re saving ourselves by acknowledging and accepting this deep connection to nature.

Please download your copy and sign to make a commitment to end Rhino Poaching.

Rhino Ambassador

The Big Six


Some of the best days that we’ve had in the game reserves have been when we’ve seen little or no game at all.  One recent morning, in Kruger, we were out early on a fresh sand road after a night of heavy rain.  We found ourselves trawling slowly along, weaving and stopping every few minutes with heads peering down at spoor on the ground, reading the story of the events from the night before.

Lion had walked in the road, probably before the rain as the prints were softened; a herd of zebra had walked across the width of the road for a very long distance, perhaps they feel safer in the open road at night than in the long grass; there had been a bit of a scuffle further on and something ran off, kicking sand backward. We saw where elephant had walked across the road to scratch on a marula tree, leaving a patch of wet mud plastered into the bark, and where they had walked down the road dumping heaps of fresh, marula-filled dung amongst huge round footprints.

The rhino really got us going though.  We hadn’t seen rhino in this section of the park, but we now knew they were definitely there.  There was plenty of new dung on top of well-established middens on both sides of the road, next to easily recognisable rhino ‘highways’; the well-worn paths rhino create from travelling through the bush. Very fresh spoor came from paths onto the road, and then circled back into the grass. Deep, muddied territorial scrapings alongside some footprints told us that one or two large males were going about their business – spraying and scraping – most likely very early that morning, and they were probably still close by. We didn’t see them anywhere; had we been driving quickly looking for rhino we might have missed all these clues. We covered only 3km and took dozens of photos in about an hour, saw no animals at all, but it was a lesson in bush school; no matter what the conditions, there’s always something to see if you take the time to look. Or listen.

At the end of another day, our neighbour in camp came back looking dusty and exhausted. We asked if he had had any good sightings and he said, “I come for the birds, anything else is a bonus.” The next morning it was overcast and grey. Terrible light for photography and not very inspiring scenery either. So we picked a road we’d never been on before (easy in Kruger Park) that happened to be near a river, with no expectations of what we might see. The bird life was fantastic; you wouldn’t have gotten a single good bird photo that day (our neighbour was still in camp when we left), but to drive with windows open listening to the chorus of birds, seeing them crisscrossing in all directions, scooping insects in the road and with something perched on every dead tree was pure entertainment.

So Kruger lived up to our expectations during three short days when we saw the Big 5, and used our sixth sense to experience just about everything else we could have hoped for – including giraffe in a torrent of rain that made one of the best photos of the trip. Anyone can have a great bush trip if you keep your eyes, ears and imagination wide open to whatever crosses your path.


We Love Elephants


We have marched to save elephants, we read and Tweet and Facebook about elephants.

We visited iMfolozi Game Reserve recently. It has always been one of our favorite places on earth, and we love it too. Its renown for its rhino; it’s where Ian Player and a small team of game rangers saved the southern white rhino from extinction in the 1960’s. So we were sad and a bit shocked to see the state of iMfolozi since our last visit ten years ago. One of the areas we always visited was Sontuli Loop, with its beautiful mature Acacia trees, where you were guaranteed to see a lot of game, especially rhino.

That wasn’t the case this time; large sections of Sontuli Loop looked like the aftermath of a tsunami than a protected game reserve. In places, there was barely one live mature acacia, least of all one in bloom. Almost all had been stripped of their bark, and did scrubby foliage or more broken, toppled trees, surround dead skeletons of trees. There was no game in sight; no giraffe – as they need these tall Acacia to browse – no impala, zebra, wildebeest, no warthog – or rhino.

Elephants. They were introduced to the reserve in the 1990’s so that tourists could see the ’Big 5’ in a KZN provincial reserve, and we saw them. An elephant was the first animal we saw when we drove into the reserve, a small herd were drinking in the river as we drove into camp, and later in the day we spoke to group of tourists who happily told us that they had seen a herd of almost sixty (really?) elephants close to the gate. I was ashamed to feel a bit upset and annoyed; I love elephants, so why should I feel this way?

Hluhluwe/ iMfolozi is a relatively small reserve. If not under threat, elephants breed easily and eat a lot; a mature elephant can eat up to 400 pounds of foliage per day. Once these large trees have gone, the ecology of a reserve naturally changes and evolves; it tells us that areas opened up by elephants should regenerate with fresh grasses in time.  A game reserve isn’t static wilderness. It’s an earth-island with its own ecology that functions as a unique ecosystem, depending on its components. With an ongoing drought the areas of treeless landscape in iMfolozi have left the short dry grass exposed and overgrazed, and soil in poor condition from lack of moisture or scattered dung that would have been produced by the absent wildlife.

iMfolozi will evolve, with elephants; in time, it might become known as much for its elephants as its rhino. We come to the reserve to see everything else as well: impala, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, birds,  lizards – it’s not only about big game.  iMfolozi did redeem itself on another day, when we saw more of the ‘other 5’ but definitely in much smaller numbers than in the past.

Sadly, another reason could be game auctions, a regular practice in government reserves that generate a lot of income.  We don’t believe smaller game or rhino should be captured annually, but that is the system for now. These small islands are heavily managed because there is little unspoilt wilderness available to relocate game when the reserve reaches carrying capacity.  Although the browsers, including rhino, that are usually auctioned off aren’t doing the obvious damage, it will be a very contentious issue if, or when, the reserve decides that there are just too many elephants. I don’t want to think about it yet – neither does anyone else.



Ian’s Legacy


Ian Player’s memorial two weeks ago was attended by over 800 people, who represented all aspects of his full and varied life: friends and family, colleagues in conservation, Wilderness Foundation associates, the Bateleurs-Flying for Africa, the ’Jung ones’, and many people who have been on trail or met him through the Wilderness Leadership School.

Ian is, and always will be, remembered as the man who saved the southern white rhino from extinction, by taking a the small population from iMfolozi game reserve and re-populating them across Africa and around the world. It is a well-known conservation success story.  Less well known is the work he did to protect wilderness in iMfolozi, and to promote an understanding and awareness of the essential value of wilderness for all life on earth.

While he was stationed in iMfolozi for the Natal Parks Board (now Ezemvelo), Ian and his guide Magqubu Ntombela mapped out trails in the area that would later be proclaimed and set aside as ’Wilderness Area’, and founded the Wilderness Leadership School so that others could, literally, follow in their footsteps. The security, comforts and routine of life in society were to be left behind, so that a small group could take a five-day guided walk into the African bush, sleeping under the stars, and carrying all essentials – food, clothing, and sleeping mat, in a backpack, to live with wildlife and experience the true meaning of wild-ness.

This is also the legacy of Ian Player; perhaps more important even than saving rhino is saving the habitat that they need to survive. The only way that we, as conservators of our planet, are going to protect the small pockets of wilderness that remain is to realise its value to ourselves as well.  We are a self-centred species and our often misplaced survival instincts are focused on our own lives: agriculture, heavy industry and energy production, and consumer-lead economic development, are all meant to serve the human race. They are also the most destructive forces for other species in the ’natural’ world. We have willingly separated ourselves from nature by the way we live our lives. It takes a conscious, physical act of will to remove oneself from a cosseted man-made environment to venture into the earth’s own wilderness, if only for a short time, but it can have a lasting impact on the way we live our lives afterward.

A wilderness trail is an opportunity to rediscover our vital connection to the natural world, as time slows and the days and nights fall into a rhythm in tune with the movement of the earth. It brings balance back into our lives allowing a rediscovery of our links to the ancient, original roots of mankind in Africa. It feels like coming home; it is a transformative experience, almost a rite of passage.

As Ian himself beautifully wrote in the late 1950’s:

“Lying in the cave on this lovely African night in a land inhabited by wild animals with their own mysterious rhythms made me feel part of the universe. I could identify with the sounds of the night, the scents and the atmosphere. There was a tone and a rhythm that was beating in time with my soul. Some part of me had always been here, and everything that was happening around me evoked this sense of connectedness.”

This, to me, is his legacy; he changed my life and I thank him for it.




The unofficial statistic of 1215 rhino poached in 2014 is hard to accept. What’s worse is that it equates to more than one rhino poached every 8 hours. South Africa, and its national parks should be in lockdown mode, and globally we should hang our heads in shame for standing by as one of the most iconic animals in Africa – on the planet – slowly slides toward extinction.

According to the IUCN, it was estimated that as of 2010 South Africa had 20,711 rhino. Since then, the DEA verified stats are 3473 rhino lost to poaching. These are extremely sobering, frightening statistics. 2014 was a very bad year for rhino, and 2015 might not be a happy one either unless the government stops talking and gets moving alongside the many people working round the clock to save rhino.

They are out there night and day to try to stop this horrific slaughter. Game guards, field rangers, canine and foot patrols, fundraisers, NGO’s and conservation organisations, social media sites, private rhino owners and orphanages…the list goes on. But where is the South African government’s sense of urgency and outrage in all of this?

Here is an excerpt from the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Minister Edna Molewa’s speech in Parliament, 02 Sept 2014:

“Honourable Members, the lure of the poacher is a strong one…especially if you believe your future to be bleak and your prospects to be non-existent.

But it is a road we are determined to dissuade them from taking. And it starts with the young. The seeds of national pride in our rhino and its protection are most fertile in the minds of the youth.  The values of pride, responsibility, and duty to protect – once successfully instilled in them, never leave. But we cannot promise them words alone. It is our responsibility to redirect the energies of the young towards useful, income generating projects that mean they remain far from the poacher’s snare.

Our very first impressions of the recently convened public hearings into rhino poaching tell us that if offered alternatives, communities are inclined towards upliftment and conservation – not crime.

We are a country committed to sustainable utilization of natural resources. Which is why Cabinet has also authorized my department to explore the feasibility of a legal trade in rhino horn products. The application of economic fundamentals to issues around a proposed legal trade, also known as rhinonomics: is among the terms of reference of a Panel of Experts appointed to look into this issue ahead of the CITES Conference of Parties in 2016.”

We agree with the minister that conservation starts with the young, and that responsibility and the duty to protect must be instilled from an early age. However, we must now ask politicians for answers: how will legal trade support sustainable utilization and create “useful, income generating projects” that will stop poaching and save the rhino?

Many important questions have gone unanswered since 2013, when the Rhino Issue Management (RIM) Report first made recommendations to government regarding rhino safety and security, and commerce. In the intervening years, poaching has escalated alarmingly and the market for rhino horn has evolved and diversified. Much of the illegal trade now centers on expensive status gifts, such as heavy bead bracelets and carved objects.

If the DEA intends to propose trade at CITES in 2016, then they must end the secrecy and put forward their plan. The continuing speculation about government policy and the mechanics of rhinonomics has been an ongoing distraction that has played into the hands of criminals during the last three years of uncontrolled and increasingly brutal poaching.

Too much time has been wasted discussing, debating, and deliberating, while rhino keep dying. 2015 is the time to prioritise rhino poaching; put it high on the political agenda where it belongs. Educate both the young, and politicians, about the desperate urgency of this crisis. Positive action is needed. Prioritise , politicise, put in practice. No more debating, dithering, and dead rhino.


Why We Need Wilderness

“Conservation is essential for the survival of our species.”

Spending a week with our good friend, ex-game ranger Paul Dutton, gave us the opportunity for many conversations about the state of the world that we live in. The crisis in rhino poaching has sharpened the focus on the natural environment and brought people together from around the world to work toward a common goal of saving the rhino. But that’s only part of the story.

Paul was a life-long friend of Dr Ian Player, who had a great influence on his life, as he did on our own. Ian is known as the man who ‘saved the rhino’, but he did much more than that in his lifetime, he brought many people to a realisation of the importance of wilderness; the absolutely crucial role that wilderness and all it represents plays in the life of our planet, and ourselves.

Nature can recover if left on its own; weeds sprout through cracks in the pavement and trees grow wherever birds drop seeds. Humans are in a constant battle to ‘tame’ nature- to take the wildness out of our world. But if we make time to reflect, we will see how our custodianship of wilderness needs to be addressed right now- at this point in time, because of so many factors that are contributing to the torture of the environment.

Wilderness and wild places are the ‘resevoirs of life’ for all ecosystems. Without them, there would be no wildlife: no rhino, no big five, no small mammals, no birds, or trees. There would be an ever-shrinking natural world. In time, there would be no respite from development or human encroachment; no place for quiet, fresh air, clear skies, green space or true wild-life. We would lose our connection to the earth, that which makes us compassionate beings capable of respect for other species, and people.

Dr Player said it better than I ever could, “The greatest experience, is to walk in the African bush, amongst the animals, on an ancient, archetypal journey into ourselves.”

The Drive Is On

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“Rhino are bringing people together”

Our trip around South Africa to build awareness of saving rhino is taking place in a unique and eye-catching ’rhino car’. The car is finished to look like an adult rhino with a young baby by its side. It was created for a competition to raise funds for The Rhino Orphanage in Limpopo. When the competition ended, First Car Rental supplied us with the car to show their continuing support for rhino. So the drive is on, and we’re bringing people together to share their thoughts and concerns for the future of South Africa’s precious rhino, great and small, while driving a life-size rhino.

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The rhino car is a crowd stopper – it’s a great way of getting noticed and people are responding in an incredibly positive way! At a SASOL forecourt in Salt Rock KZN, on a busy day when many  South Africans were travelling for the holidays, I was able to talk to people about all sorts of rhino matters. They wanted to stop, ask questions, and to offer help and encouragement in whatever way they could. It’s easy for people from all ages and backgrounds to come forward to share their concerns about rhino.

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The contribution of rhino to South Africa’s landscape is huge, and its up to us to accommodate and protect them. Experienced conservationists know that we can not lose these keystone species without affecting the entire ecosystem, without tipping the balance against nature. The future of the rhino matters; it matters very much.