By Vanessa Papas
This past week news has been buzzing around the notorious Ndlovu poaching gang, who received hefty sentences in the Grahamstown high court on Wednesday last week after they were found guilty of rhino poaching. The three members – Zimbabwean citizens Jabulani Ndlovu, 41, Forget Ndlovu, 38, and SA citizen Sikhumbuzo Ndlovu, 39 – were each sentenced to 25 years behind bars. The gang are believed to have killed at least two rhino in the Eastern Cape – the third, a bull named Pride, miraculously survived the attack. After darting Pride, the poachers sawed his front horn off but the illegal drugs they used were not enough to keep Pride down and the first cut into his horn-bed woke him up and he bolted to safety. His companion, a female named Justice, tragically did not survive the ordeal. She was left for dead in a pool of blood as the men made off with her body parts. While the conviction was welcomed by all South Africans, it is little consolation to Pride, who lost his best friend.
While many South African’s will be embracing the change of season by snuggling under blankets and lazing around a crackling fire, Gareth Putter will be living on top of a 16-metre high scaffold tower for a full month at the Montecasino Bird Gardens in Fourways, Sandton, Johannesburg. Gareth is an animal warrior who has dedicated his life to the fight against rhino poaching and his latest ‘mission’ will see him challenge corporate South Africa as well as individuals worldwide to get involved with saving one of our most threatened wildlife species.
South Africa is home to nearly 80 percent of the world’s rhinos and has been the country hit hardest by poaching criminal. In February 2019 the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, released the 2018 poaching numbers. Thankfully, the numbers show a decrease of 259 (1,028 rhino were poached in 2017). But this positive sign does not mean rhinos are now thriving. It shows at least two rhinos were killed each day in 2018. Furthermore, the cumulative impact of the poaching crisis is taking its toll, as well as the prolonged drought affecting food and water resources. There is no debate – our failing systems, lack of political will and leadership, lack of investigative capacity, slow court processes and deeply embedded corruption are playing right into the hands of the poachers.
Rocking For Rhinos is a registered non-profit organisation working towards not only the abolishment of Rhino poaching, but also the protection and management of the remaining Rhino population.
The organisation was formed by Gareth in January 2012, along with a few other extremely motivated, passionate and dedicated people, united by one fundamental issue: the now critical plight of our disappearing Rhino population and the war that must be waged against the poachers and ring leaders that are the direct cause of the demise of this gentle creature. Rocking For Rhinos is based in Hoedspruit, a small town in the Limpopo province of South Africa, surrounded by game farms and in close proximity to the Kruger National Park.
On a daily basis Rocking For Rhinos spreads awareness, supports the teams on the front lines, places pressure on local authorities and educating as many people as possible in order to create lasting change. The primary aim is to provide the general public with a real opportunity to contribute to this necessary cause through attending the Rocking For Rhinos music festivals and annual tours. These events fuse great music and conservation to give these magnificent creatures a voice. While a portion of the funds raised go towards putting on these events, a significant majority of these funds are paid over to our beneficiaries.
“The natural world is dying and it’s vitally important that people around the world start catching a wake up,” says Gareth. “I have a five-year-old son Thorne who was watching BBC Earth 2 with me the other day and he looked up to me in amazement and asked me, ‘ daddy, are these animals real, in this world?’. He was so awestruck by these incredible animals in a movie he thought surely they must be fantasy and when I told him that they were indeed real, the look of amazement on this innocent boys face just made me realise how precious the natural world is and just how important it is for us as humans to conserve it!”
Gareth says since the inception of Rocking For Rhinos in 2012, their small yet passionate crew has done five music festivals, one single day music event, two art exhibitions, three auctions and much more in aid of Rhino Conservation in SA.
“Through our events and collaborations, we have donated R777,046.00 to our various beneficiaries. We have done this all outside of our day jobs and it’s simply not enough,” he says. “As of 19 April, on behalf of Rocking For Rhinos, I’ll be living on top of a scaffold tower for a month – so will be eating, sleeping, showering and going to the toilet all in a 2.5 x 2.5-metre living area.”
Why choose Montecasino Bird Gardens? Gareth says his initial thought was to live up a small security guard tower at the Pick n Pay parking lot in Hoedspruit, but after negative feedback from the owners of the centre he took it as a sign that he needed to hit the City where big business is done on a regular basis and where Rocking For Rhino could gain more exposure. Being a tattoo artist, Gareth works on people from all over the country and one of his clients happens to work at Tsogo Sun/ Montecasino and she recently saw a post of his on Facebook and presto… Rhino Tower @ Montecasino Bird Gardens was born. After meeting with the amazing team at Montecasino it seemed the Bird Gardens would be the perfect fit as they are also very focussed on conservation issues.
“We are going to be challenging Corporate SA to send representatives up the tower to come and meet me and sign a pledge towards supporting conservation projects throughout South Africa, however there is a cost involved, it will cost R10 000 in the form of a donation to Rocking For Rhinos in order to get to the top platform of the tower. We will also be trying to include school kids by letting them ascend the tower to the first 4m high platform for a fee of R20, this way the South African youth can also play a part in contributing towards conservation,” explains Gareth.
The aim is to raise R3 Million plus for Rhino conservation in South Africa. There will be live-streaming the Rhino Tower (Johannesburg Scaffolding has come on board for the project and are donating the entire build) so that people from around the world can follow the story day by day. Other organisations that Rocking For Rhinos have pledged their support to include Protrack Rhino Task Team, Saving The Survivors, Black Mambas, Pit-Track and Flying 4 Rhino & Conservation Trust.
For sponsorship opportunities please e-mail or contact Gareth on 0732377269. The public can assist by logging on to Rocking For Rhinos Facebook page or their website www.rockingforrhinos.org.za to donate through their Pay Fast account. Other than that, the Rhino Tower @ Montecasino Bird Gardens is open for anyone who is willing to donate. The cost for adults to enter the tower and go up to the first platform of 4 metres is R150 and children six and above R20. The public are encouraged to take pics of the Rhino Tower and to spread images and videos on social media using #rhino tower #hourupthetower #saveourrhinos
A Race Against Time
By Vanessa Papas