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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Rhinos, the Media, and Leonardo DiCaprio

Rhinos have a huge capacity for love!
Borrowed from
Battleground: Rhino Wars (an Animal Planet miniseries) has come to a conclusion with two positive outcomes: they nabbed a couple of poachers, and the show must have raised awareness in the US of the rhinos' dire situation. But now the highly-trained military men have left, and the problem is far from solved. They knew they couldn't wipe out all rhino poaching with two arrests. Wherever rhinos are present, the money has to come from somewhere to keep the punishments consistent and severe.

A stick can only do so much without a carrot. The convicted poacher they had on the show as a consultant was creepy and remorseless, but when they arrested the other two, I started thinking about what their motives could be. Perhaps they needed a large influx of money to feed their families or save their farms. If there was a way to reward people for leaving the rhinos alone -- to make the rhinos worth more alive than dead -- it might knock the legs out from under the complex network necessary to obtain rhino horn and export it to international markets. Hemanta Mishra discusses such programs being successful in the past in Nepal in The Soul of the Rhino. Again, such a project would need a good base of cash, and I'm not familiar with the specifics of any site, but in theory, it should work wonders.

The most necessary piece of the puzzle is education. Rhino Wars helped spread the word a lot, though I'm not sure it was to the right audience. People with the resources to demand rhino horn must learn that rhino horn does not cure any diseases or have any other biological benefits. We also need to explain to them how senseless it is to kill these animals and how much suffering it causes. A person must be suffering tremendously in order to take rhino horn as a drug, but bringing more suffering into the world will not decrease theirs.

How to educate? A recent Vietnamese PSA shames the consumers, and maybe it works for that market. I've always liked the personal approach, like this poster that suggests rhinos have feelings, too. (They really do!) Nothing gets people more enthusiastic about a cause than when they find something they can identify with. The media has the power to bring stories of individual rhinos and the humans who care for them to people who would never otherwise experience one of these animals in person.

My short story, "Not Extinct Yet," does just that. I made the story a fantasy for two reasons. First, the rhinos can speak human languages, so it's a quick way to get people to sympathize with their plight. Second, in a fantasy, I can find a solution to the poaching problem and have it work long before it's too late.

"Not Extinct Yet" features Suzanne, a linguist who travels to South Africa to find out if rhinos are among the species who can talk. When they reveal that they can, she gets to know several charming rhinos and takes their survival as her personal reason to live. After trying everything she can think of, logic takes over and Suzanne asks a rhino what should be done. It would make a fun, happy film people would enjoy watching even as they learn about the real rhino wars taking place right now. (Find excerpts here, under Rhinoceros Dreams.) The story is about to win a literary prize.

The Hands Off My Parts campaign has the support of the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Emily VanCamp, Josh Bowman, Stacy Keibler, Alyssa Milano, Ian Somerhalder, and Ethan Suplee. I've heard Coldplay has expressed its support for rhinos, too.

I would like to suggest that anyone with access to production facilities and media outlets (preferably the ones listed above, who love rhinos already) make a movie of "Not Extinct Yet" (change the title if you like!) and distribute it as widely as possible. Raise awareness of rhinos with a fun story! People love stories!

Using the story this way seems like the best use of my limited resources for the rhinos' benefit. Please contact me if you'd like to read it and you have the ability to get the message out there. Those of you who don't have such access, please use the powers of social media to let everyone know about this idea.

Why should we save the rhinos? I don't know anyone who's been in the presence of a rhinoceros who would ask that question. For me, individual rhinos are beautiful souls who make me feel I should do everything in my power to defend them. The guys on Rhino Wars seem to have had a similar experience, so I'm not alone in that. As a group, the five species of rhinoceros are a magnificent example of something self-sufficient that needs nothing from humans in order to live natural, peaceful lives. Now that we humans have messed with them so nastily, it's our responsibility to try and undo the damage.

Here I am enjoying the rhino mom and baby during rhino
siesta at Fossil Rim last summer. What's not to love?
But don't take my word for it. There have been at least three experts who expounded eloquently on this question recently.