Book Review: Running with Rhinos
Stories from a Radical Conservationist
by Ed Warner
Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2016
Conservationist Ed Warner’s new book Running with Rhinos chronicles his adventures doing volunteer work with the “Rhino Ops” of the World Wildlife Fund’s Rhino Conservancy Project and the International Rhino Foundation operating in Africa. In these pages, in clear, pugnaciously simple prose, Warner writes about his work trying to save the black rhinos of Zimbabwe in the face of both well-organized and well-financed poachers and the callous, murderous corruption of the Mugabe regime, his work helping to establishment the Lowveld Rhino Trust and the Save Valley Conservancy, and his close encounters with all manner of African megafauna – with the center spot going, of course, to the mercurial, murderous Eocene holdovers at the heart of his book:
Black rhinos are crazy dangerous. You can never tell what they will do next. If there’s a possibility of a charge you must be able to get out of the way. Outrunning them is not an option. Rhinos are faster. The only safe course is to climb a tree.
Warner recounts the close calls he and his fellow volunteers had in the field, sometimes managing to thwart poachers and always working to increase the scientific understanding of rhinos before they dwindle into extinction in the wild. The sum of Warner’s experiences is a kind of passionate coarsening, a war-correspondent’s lack of sentimentality when it comes to achieving his goals:
There are now more than 120 black rhinos in Save. They form the core of a trophy hunting and/or photo safari business that includes the “big five”: Cape buffalo, rhino, elephant, lion, and leopard. The lion and the leopard returned to Save on their own. Why not, there is a lot of (big) cat food there. Some of you may be scandalized by my mentioning trophy hunting and conservation in the same breath. Don’t be. I’m no hunter, but I’m no Bambi Environmentalist either. Save Valley Conservancy is incredibly successful in terms of reintroduction of wildlife and increased biodiversity on the very large portion of the Lowveld ecosystem. Without the income to both expand the animal populations and, more importantly, protect the animals from poachers, their success would not have been possible.
Those ‘Bambi environmentalists’ might indeed take issue with the idea of systematically murdering some members of an endangered species in order to raise money to help other members of the same species, but the least avoidable conclusion most readers will draw from Warner’s book is also the saddest: the poachers are winning. The numbers of wild rhinos continue to fall everywhere the animals are found in the wild, and the desperation and sophistication of their killers grows with every year. Carefully-guarded game preserves may be able to slow the process, but even through the rough-talk optimism of the author, it’s clear that long before the present century is over, there will be no more rhinos in the world. It lends Warner’s raucous field notes oddly more poignant.