Tintswalo Rhino Extreme Campaign

We can come up with many reasons why we might not support rhino causes. A Getaway blog post last year claimed that at the time there were over 270 fund raising organisations for the rhino so how do we know which one to support? What actually happens to the money? Are they actually making a difference because the number of rhino poached is increasing all the time.

I was asking a lot of these questions, so when I was given the opportunity to go and join the Tintswalo backed anti-poaching initiative in the Manyeleti, I knew this was my chance to find out the real story. I’m pleased and honoured to share this special and emotional experience with you.

It’s important to understand that all of these rhino initiatives are making a difference. We may lose more than 1000 rhino this year, but if it wasn’t for these projects, we would probably lose double that if not more. The problem is serious and it’s expensive to combat because of the wide areas involved and the fact that poachers have the latest technologies at their disposal. Brave people are putting their lives on the line to protect our rhino, we don’t have to risk getting shot but the least we can do is support them.

So I implore you, find a reputable organisation and get involved or make a regular donation. If you feel like you have the network, skills or capacity to do some fundraising, set yourself up as an activist on www.givengain.com and fundraise for one of the rhino causes listed there. Givengain will process the donations for you and provide you with all the tools you need to run a campaign.

At the end of the post I detail how you can help this particular campaign. I don’t go into deep detail about all the good work they are doing, and I don’t mention how many poachers have been arrested or killed due to their efforts because I don’t want them to be targeted. But I can tell you that they are being very effective.

TREC 1000

Fritz Breytenbach is the head ranger for Tintswalo Safari Lodge in the Manyeleti reserve concession. Like most rangers, Fritz lies awake at night worrying about the plight of the rhinos. Rhino poaching was a common topic of discussion between him and his wife, Ronel. Fritz felt compelled to do something, but what could one man do when the problem is so big? Finally, after much brainstorming, they came up with the idea of walking 1000 kilometers through the Manyeleti reserve, to create awareness around the plight of the rhino, and hopefully raise funds to assist the work of Game Reserves United (GRU) and the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa (WESSA). This is how they described their mission:

To increase awareness of the plight of the rhino, and the gathering of sponsorship to help ensure that their extinction is averted by pre-empting the poaching of rhino in the Manyeleti and Western Kruger, in partnership with WESSA and GRU, in their war against the wholesale slaughter of these gentle beasts.

The GRU project was runner up for the Rhino Rescue Award in the 2013 Mail & Guardian Greening The Future Awards a few months ago. The focus of the project is around information gathering. Since its launch in 2010, the initiative has been establishing a network of informants in local communities and collecting data about poaching syndicates. The information enables the reserves to be proactive instead of just responding after rhinos have been poached. This approach to tackling rhino poaching is unique and could form the blueprint for other conservation areas to follow in future.

GRU operates in the area that Tintswalo Safari Lodge is located and Fritz was convinced that the work they are doing is effective and needs to be supported. Getting Tintswalo to support the initiative was not difficult, but it took much effort and time to get permission from the relevant authorities to walk through and camp in the reserve. Finally when all was in place, the walk began on May 1st 2013. Fritz was initially accompanied by another ranger and friend, Rudi Venter, as well as a documentary team consisting of Steven Lyon (Lyonheartlove), Joey Skibel and Hugues Pieto plus support film crew.

Walking in the bush is not without its hazards which range from close shaves with wild animals to sprains and falls due to the uneven ground. Several members of the walking party fell prey to sprained ankles and were forced to miss a couple of days of walking. But in the end, the entire party completed the 1000km walk as planned. Along the way supporters joined the walk for small sections. Dawn Jorgensen (The Incidental Tourist) and I were very fortunate to be invited to join the walk for the last day, to have a taste of walking through the reserve and to witness the celebration at the 1000km mark. It was a very special and intensely emotional experience for us.

Tintswalo Safari Lodge

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]e were not thrown in the deep end. On arrival by chartered flight at the bush landing strip, we were welcomed with champagne and driven off to the Tintswalo Lodge. Where we enjoyed an afternoon and evening of luxury before joining the walking crew the following morning. Tintswalo Safari Lodge is small, offering only 6 luxurious suites, each with their own private deck and plunge pool.  The reserve is located between the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve to the North, Sabi Sand Reserve to the South, and open to the Greater Kruger National Park on its fenceless eastern boundary.

After checking in, we rushed to join the afternoon game drive. All the staff were very friendly and helpful, not least of all the guides and trackers. They ensured we saw plenty of wildlife during the game drive, including a very close encounter with a lioness. We were lucky to experience the lioness calling, a sound not easily forgotten. At the end of the game drive we enjoyed sundowners at the watering hole before heading back to the lodge.

We had some time to freshen up and explore our sumptuous suites before joining the other guests in the lapa for a dinner of various potjies and braaied meats with salads. The suites are quite far apart and joined by wooden gangways. Because there are no fences around the lodge, we were not allowed to walk between the suites unaccompanied at night in case we got dragged off by a wild animal! I have to say it was quite difficult to leave the room when it was time to go, we were very comfortable.

The lounge area with fireplace and view through the glass doors onto the bush just calls for you to sit there and while away some hours. I’m sure in summer the plunge pool on the balcony is also very appealing. I think I would be happy to pay a few thousand Rand a night just for the bathroom. There was so much space, with a free standing bath in the middle and a shower with a glass door with a view onto the bush, the toilet also had a view onto the bush. I can tell you that I slept very well in the plush bed that night. Good thing too, as the following night we were to be sleeping under the stars.

Full gallery of photos of the lodge and game drive here.

The Walk

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]fter being spoilt with a lovely breakfast at the lodge (including the best homemade muesli I have ever tasted), we were taken to meet up with the walking party which had already been walking since dawn to ensure they covered enough kilometers to hit the 1000km mark that day. We ended up only having to walk 25kms, but it was at quite a pace and not easy going through the bush. I realised that the 975kms they had done up until that day was no walk in the park (if you’ll excuse the pun).

We passed by many animals, with Fritz advising us on what to do and what not to do so that we did not upset the animals and endanger ourselves. After a couple of hours of walking, we arrived at the site of something we had not expected to see. The 2 day old carcass of a poached rhino. It was a very emotional experience for us, but more so for Fritz and his companions who had seen this same rhino alive only 10 days before. It’s really difficult to explain the impact that a real life rhino carcass has on one. This majestic beast, destroyed for one small part of it, now missing from the head.

We contemplated the crime and took pictures to share the atrocity and hopefully break through some of the rhino fatigue that is now prevalent in South Africa. We continued our walk with heavy hearts. The hours of walking gave us plenty of time to learn about the work that Fritz was doing in the communities around the reserve. Educating the children and establishing relationships with influential people in the community. The poachers come from these communities, finding it hard to resist a quick R20k for a night’s work. It’s difficult not to be pleased at stories of poachers being caught or killed, but they have left behind a family with no bread winner. And every poacher has 10 more keen to take his place. It’s the ring leaders that we need to catch. There are some powerful people involved in this illegal trade.

A few more hours passed until suddenly Fritz, checking his GPS, announced that we had reached the 1000km mark. Representatives from GRU, WESSA and Tintswalo joined us to celebrate the achievement. Speeches were given, thanks expressed and champagne imbibed. But our elation was tempered by the news that the day before 16 rhino had been poached in SA, the highest number of poachings recorded in one day ever.

That night we slept under the stars and enjoyed good conversation around a fire, with delicious gemsbok steaks and good red wine. This was a rare treat for the TREC team, after slightly more than 2 months of camping in the bush with no toilets and no showers. There was a palpable sense of achievement in the group, and a sense of excitement for what opportunities would arise from this campaign, allowing them to play a role in combating poaching.

Steven stayed on to do some more filming for the documentary, to be called Something That Matters. Fritz has been asked to present on the work of GRU in Monaco and the United States. He is hoping to raise substantial sponsorship for the worthy cause. But more importantly, he has decided that the walk must not stop. Interested visitors to Tintswalo Lodge can join Fritz for a walk through the bush, and add to the tally of kilometers walked with passion for our imperiled rhinos.

View the full gallery of photos from the walk here.

Our Last Day

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n our last day we were taken to visit the Moholoholo Animal Rehabilitation Centre. It was an informative and inspiring visit. We learned much about the animals they are rehabilitating, many with the intention of releasing back into the wild. It was inspiring to see the passionate people who’s life focus is to look after injured animals. Moholoholo also works with research projects, tagging animals they release back into the wild, in order to learn more about them.

We petted a cheetah, dodged a frisky baby giraffe, ogled some lions and marvelled at wild dogs and hyenas. We visited the badgers, fed a vulture, took photos of eagles and owls and other strange birds and finally made a leopard hungry. We were incredibly lucky to encounter a wild rhinoceros as we left the rehab centre. It was happily munching on some grass a couple of meters from us.

See the full gallery of photos from Moholoholo Animal Rehabilitation centre here.

That evening we were invited to a braai at the home of one of the locals. It was a wonderful evening where we got to speak to the couple that started Game Reserves United and received an insight into the work they do and what they have achieved already. We chatted until late in the evening, sitting around the fire, clutching glasses of good red wine and debating the issues around rhino poaching.

We learnt a lot, and we went to our beds with a glimmer of hope in our hearts, knowing that there are good people putting their heart and soul into doing amazing things to save our rhinos.

All we need to do, is give them some support.

Stay up to date with the TREC project by liking their Facebook page.

How you can help

If you wish to assist TREC in supporting Game Reserves united, click here for details.

Alternatively, a small thing you can do is set the beneficiary for your MySchool/MyPlanet card to WESSA so that 1% of your spend at Woolworths goes to them. Click here to do that.