The Rhino Conservation Awards: Honouring courage and sacrifice

Many of our continent’s most majestic species of wildlife face a real threat of extinction. Africa is losing the very thing that makes it unique and valuable, its wildlife. To counter this, various organisations and individuals have taken it upon themselves to commit their lives to conserving these animals.  

Many of these conservation efforts are largely dependent on the support of donors. However, an unfortunate phenomenon that curtails these efforts is that of ‘donor fatigue’. Donor fatigue is the result of donors losing interest in supporting causes because the novelty of the cause has faded. “It is now more important than ever to keep support up and not to lose momentum going forward. We need to keep conservationists and their supporters motivated to continue their good work,” states Andrew Campbell, the Chief Executive Officer of the Game Rangers’ Association of Africa (GRAA).

Award ceremonies such as the Rhino Conservation Awards help to counter donor fatigue, while encouraging and supporting ongoing and new conservation efforts. This is achieved by honouring those who commit their efforts to Rhino Conservation.  The importance of this work is further echoed by the profile of people who are joining forces to highlight conservation efforts; such as the Rhino Conservation Awards’ Patron, His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco.

The Rhino Conservation Awards were founded by Dr Larry Hansen and Miss Xiaoyang Yu in 2012 and have been hosted annually in collaboration with the GRAA and Department of Environmental Affairs. The 2020 award ceremony will mark the ninth year of the Rhino Conservation Awards. “We are looking forward to the event. The 2019 Awards were a great success and a huge motivator for continuing with the initiative well into the future,” confirms Campbell.

Some of the 2019 Rhino Conservation Award winners commented on the importance of receiving this recognition, propelling continued conservation efforts. Amos Gwema, First Place winner of the Endangered Species Award for his work combatting wildlife crime in Zimbabwe believes that; “Winning this award is a very positive motivator for me to excel and work harder for the good of our wildlife conservation for the present and future generations. There is a brighter future for rhino conservation but there is a need to put more resources towards conservation… Donors and wildlife stakeholders need to recognise the need for more intelligence work in conservation.”  

According to Maria Diekmann, of The Rare and Endangered Species Trust (REST) in Namibia, second place winner of the Endangered Species Award; “Receiving this award meant so much to the entire staff of REST and especially to me as the Founder. Recognition by such a well-respected awards committee and Patron means that our efforts are making a difference… The Endangered Species Award says so much about how rhino conservation is helping more than a single species. World attention, efforts and funding focused on the rhino has helped bring the plight of the pangolin into the spotlight.”  

Nico and Leoni Jacobs, 911 Rhino, are the 2019 winners of the Rhino Conservation Supporter Award. Received for their work on supporting rhino conservation in the North West Province, they confirmed that this award marks that their day to day work in rhino conservation is recognised and appreciated. “We as humans need to unite. Only when all role players acknowledge the crisis and decline in the rhino species will we be able to stop the poaching. We hope to work harder… and build greater safe sanctuaries and reserves for these animals. We hope to get more people, companies and entities involved.”  

Lastly, Susan Scott and Bonné de Bod, SDB Films, who were the runners up of the Political/Judicial/Investigative Support Award for their investigative rhino poaching documentary STROOP, believe that conservation is a work of passion that must be shared, cultivated and supported.  

“When you’re at the Awards, it’s a room full of passionate individuals who are putting whatever they can muster into saving rhinos. It gives me hope for the future of our rhinos and our wild spaces. We continue to roll-out STROOP into communities and schools where they may not have access to TV or the internet. The film is being broadcast throughout Africa on M-Net and Showmax on World Rhino Day, it’s also being broadcast in Asia… and throughout China,” says Scott. “This recognition of the impact of STROOP by the Rhino Conservation Awards re-affirms the strength of seeing our rhino heroes on the ground. Those who are in the thick of the fight and who say for us all that we can’t keep waiting for the solutions to happen, they happen with each of us,” concludes De Bod.