Chalk this one up to interesting and potential careers. Businessman and entrepreneur John Hume, who was featured in the most recent edition of National Geographic, talks about his herd of rhino’s and how safely and humanely farming their horns as a business can save the rhino from extinction.
Game ranching on 2 different farms in South Africa, primarily for the purpose of breeding both Black and White rhino, which are both severely threatened by poaching because of the Eastern demand for their horn. One is an intensive game ranch, where rhinos are kept in large camps and the other ranch is an extensive wildlife system, with various other species of game on it too. It is a more natural system, like a small reserve and rhinos roam freely on this ranch.
How would you describe what you do?
Most of my time is spent on trying to save the African rhino from extinction and managing my other businesses which afford me the income required to look after the rhino.
I want people to know that you can safely and humanely farm a rhino’s horn. All of my rhino’s are dehorned(thus making it less likely a poacher will kill them).
The rhino has to be anesthetized to do the dehorning. So we dart it and the drug takes about 5 minutes to be effective and we take 15 minutes to do the rest of the procedure.The rest of the procedure comprises cutting off both horn about 80 mm above the flesh. If you go below this say at 40mm you would hit the quick and just like your toenail, if you cut above your quick there is no pain at all.
The animal is awakened after about 20 minutes. The horns will grow out again at about 100mm per year.
My rhino are all dehorned and live a very normal life doing everything that a normal rhino does including fighting but we have less damaging injuries with the rhinos because they have short blunt horns.
What does your work entail?
Managing the managers on two very large game farms.
What’s a typical work week like?
Desk, desk, desk, meetings, interviews and if I am lucky a few drives to inspect game.
How did you get started?
I hired 5 acres of irrigation in 1957. I grew vegetables and sold them at 4 pennies a pound which enabled me to buy my 1st farm 1963.
What do you like about what you do?
Animals in general and rhinos in particular. I developed my passion for rhinos when I started farming with them.
What do you dislike?
Poachers and people with closed minds. Poachers generally come from the impoverished communities that surround our natural wildlife areas in South Africa. They are usually minimum-wage earners (if they have jobs at all) and are easily drawn in to the lucrative prospect of poaching rhino. They have little or no interest in the welfare of rhinos and will kill them (often brutally and sometimes even leaving them alive to stagger around with half their faces hacked off) for their horn. They are usually paid by a middleman who will then hand the horn over to someone involved in one of the many syndicates that traffic illegal goods to the East.
Current laws also make it very difficult to do this legally and without harming or killing the rhino. If I were to sell you a rhino horn harvested from a live and unharmed rhino we would both go to jail as there is no legal way to change ownership of the rhino horn. But, within 24 hours, I could get a government permit for you to kill one of my rhinos and take the horn.
So we can get the government’s blessing to kill the rhino and take the horn but we’d go to jail if we safely harvested the rhino horn.
People with closed minds refuse to acknowledge that conservation is not free and that it needs to pay for itself if it is to be successful. It cannot be left to funding bodies and public donations, as it will fail. We live in a world where we need to accept that conservation will only be successful when people stand to gain from it on socio-economic levels.
How do you make money/or how are you compensated?
From other businesses. Although if it were legal to sell rhino horns we could turn a profit on this as well.
How much money do you make as a rhino horn farmer/game rancher?
None and I will not make any without the legalization of rhino horn trade. I subsidize my ranching from my other businesses in the tourist industry. I believe a rhino farmer will average more than 1 kg of rhino horn per year per rhino and the international news media tells us that it is worth as much as gold($50,000+/kilo). However my information tells me that the poachers are getting between 10,000 and 15,000 US dollars per kilo. This would still be a very good income as I believe all costs (excluding the cost of the rhino itself) to keep a rhino for 1 year equates to about 5,000 US dollars per year.
So instead of killing rhino’s they could be raising them and supporting their family by selling the rhino horn.
How much money did you make starting out as a rhino farmer/game rancher?
None, I made my money in other business endeavors as I mentioned earlier. I see this as a lifelong effort to give back, and show people that helping the Rhino, making money, and supplying a resource that is in demand can all work together.
What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?
None. I learned primarily through experience and self-study and with the assistance of wildlife vets and game ranch managers, in terms of the nutritional requirements and general welfare of my rhinos and their habitats.
What is most challenging about what you do?
Convincing the world in general and South Africa government in particular that they are pushing the rhino to extinction. We are not going to stop Asian demand for rhino horn by continuing to make it illegal.
If we make it legal then everyone will have an incentive to protect this resource, help save the rhino, and raise new ones.
What is most rewarding?
What advice would you offer someone considering this career?
We need to get legalization quickly in order for this to become profitable. Convince impoverished African communities that they too, can make money from breeding rhino instead of poaching them. Convince Asian countries that they should also push for horn trade legalization and they should only buy horn from registered, controlled and ethical rhino custodians. Convince the South African government to adopt a true contemporary view of conservation in order to save our rhino.
How much time off do you get/take?
None, every day I’m working on my game ranches, other businesses, and trying to find ways to save the Rhino.
What is a common misconception people have about what you do?
That all that I’m doing is to make money, when all I want to do is to increase the number of our rhinos and make money.
What are your goals/dreams for the future?
I dream of 400,000 rhinos in Africa.
What else would you like people to know about your job/career?
The rhino needs horn trade legalization in order to survive. If there is no legalization I’m convinced that they will go extinct.