A world renowned African wildlife veterinarian and conservationist and a South African field guide spoke to local high school students about the importance of wildlife conservancy Wednesday.
William Fowlds practices veterinary medicine in East Cape, South Africa. He gave a presentation at Mesa Community College’s Red Mountain campus in Mesa to students from Arizona Agribusiness and Equine Center High School about the dire circumstances that animals, particularly rhinos, face in the wild due to poaching.
Fowlds said that in the last 40 years, around 90 percent of the world’s rhino population has been killed.
For decorative and ancient medicine purposes, poachers target the animals for their horns. After brutally hacking the horns off, they leave the rhino for dead with severe wounds, he said.
Raising awareness through wildlife tours
The AAEC school has accumulated a group of students who will be heading to South Africa this summer under the leadership of Fowlds and Schalk Pretorius, who has been a field guide since 1996.
The group exists as part of a concerted effort by the pair and their environmental organization ULOVANE Environmental Training to increase awareness about the critical conditions of many animal species.
ULOVANE trains field guides in order to help tourists develop a passion for the surrounding wildlife in South Africa.
“We really want to get it under their skin,” Pretorius said.
He said that in the many tours he has given and supervised, the guides become familiar with animals and form relationships with them as individual creatures, which makes poaching even more devastating.
“They’re family members, and they become part of who we are and what we do,” he said.
In an age of technology, Fowlds, like other wildlife activists, not only provides medical care to rhinos and other animals in Africa, but promotes conservation on social media.
Using social media to spread awareness
He showed an extremely graphic video to those in attendance of a rhino that fell victim to poaching.
The animal, Thandi, had her horn sawed off and lost numerous liters of blood, and was left to bleed out.
Thandi was able to be saved after skin grafts and hundreds of hours of intensive care. Fowlds shared the video of her treatment on social media to raise awareness that these attacks are a regular occurrence in the area.
Some of their social media efforts are more light-hearted.
In April, a Kenyan conservancy created an online dating profile for the last male northern white rhino in the world, dubbing him the “World’s Most Eligible Bachelor.”
Fowlds said video clicks and shares are important for raising money for conservation organizations, whose exposure leads companies and donors to want to help with their projects.
“We can’t do it alone. We need the whole world to take notice,” he said.
‘We can’t just protect the animals’
Some groups have begun implementing the temporary solution for preventing poaching by humanely removing the horns from the animals, thus taking away incentive to harm them.
However, Fowlds believes efforts like this only begin to scratch the surface of intrinsic issues the communities are facing.
“We can’t just protect the animals, it’s not enough,” he said.
He said criminal organizations dedicated to poaching use money to entice locals, often offering them months- or even years-worth of salary to help locate the animals. And he said conservationists have to make an effort to create other economic opportunities for these people, who he said may be struggling just to feed their families.
Part of the conservation is helping locals understand that a lot of their economy is based on the presence of these animals, who attract numerous tourists and visitors.
“People are there to see those iconic species,” he said.
A student in the crowd asked exactly how students and those in Arizona can help from thousands of miles away.
Fowlds responded by encouraging those in attendance to just spread the idea of conservation as much as possible, to donate to organizations like ULOVANE, and to keep trying to come up with solutions on a local level.
“Otherwise, we could be in a ton of trouble,” he said.
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