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News: Save the Rhino

uShaka Rhino Conservation
Photo by Val Adamson

Rhino Conservation

South Africa is home to 95 percent of Africa’s white rhino population and nearly 40 percent of all wild black rhinos worldwide. Unfortunately, rhino poaching in South Africa has increased dramatically, from an average of 14 rhinos poached per year until 2005 then a surge starting in 2006 that took the level to 668 rhinos in 2012.

This dramatic increase has galvanized the nation’s civil society and authorities to find innovative solutions to the crisis, and provided a way for the U.S. Mission in South Africa to work with local partners to promote conservation. Doing its part, the U.S. Consulate General in Durban has worked with USAID, and several embassy offices, including International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, public affairs and regional security, to support the fight against wildlife trafficking. 

To highlight the plight of the endangered rhino, the Consulate teamed with Durban’s eThekwini [Durban] Community Foundation (eCF) and the Wildlife Conservation Trust to engage community artists to create a handdecorated, three-quarter-size rhino sculpture called “Nkanyezi” ("Shining Star" in Zulu).

The sculpture has found a home at King Shaka International Airport in KwaZulu- Natal (KZN) Province. Video of its March unveiling there is available online. At the unveiling, Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Reuben Brigety II and Consul General Taylor V. Ruggles told an audience of community leaders, government officials, media, artists, educators and the public of the U.S. commitment to combat wildlife trafficking, and urged everyone to join in the fight against rhino poaching. Nkanyezi is a tangible, accessible symbol for the hundreds of thousands of travelers who pass through the airport monthly, reflecting the U.S. and South African commitment to save this natural resource.

Nkanyezi was seen in Durban by delegates attending the March summit of the BRICS nations—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. “The fact that the consulate participated enthusiastically alongside the community in giving breath to this project is no small deal,” said Robin Opperman, design director at Umecbo, one of the NGO participants. “U.S. support for initiatives to save our rhinos is critical to future success. We cannot do it alone.” Nkanyezi’s creation was a collaboration among artists from divergent backgrounds. The local partners involved in it wanted it to be beautiful and reflect the cultural and artistic backgrounds of the racial groups, genders, religions and socioeconomic backgrounds in KZN, the homeland of the Zulu nation.

These local craft groups developed creative motifs, and their work showed their enthusiasm for wildlife conservation and made clear the links between conservation and their livelihoods. Many of those involved in making the sculpture depend on revenue from South African tourism, and can thus see preserving the rhino and the wildlife ecosystem as good business practice. Pieces of the sculpture bring to mind Bollywood, and this reference to the Indian film industry makes sense since KZN’s ethnic Indian population is the largest population of those of Indian heritage in any nation other than India.

Other parts of the sculpture feature intricate Zulu beadwork, wherein every color has a meaning. Yet other aspects draw on pop culture and Americana, such as its use of Coca-Cola bottle caps as tile. The sculpture’s design is based on that of the USA/South Africa friendship pin, and the craft groups involved in the sculpture reinterpreted the two flags on the pin using their preferred media, such as crocheted recycled plastic and glittering ceramics. One side of Nkanyezi evokes the colors of the U.S. flag and the other, colors of the South African flag. That reference is a “testament to the partnership between nations,” said eCF Director Kathryn Kure. “The rhino belongs to all of us,” she said, adding that she hoped the nation’s people could unite to save “these magnificent, amazing creatures, and remember anew our duty of care to protect and cherish all the thing of this earth.”

Nkanyezi has been featured in local newspapers and catches the eye of those rushing to catch flights or pick up loved ones; they all slow down to delight in its eclectic assortment of craft traditions. The next steps on Nkanyezi’s journey are still to be decided. She’s now a coveted guest at regional forums, and the post hopes she will continue to spread her message of U.S.-South African partnership on wildlife conservation around South Africa or the world.

More information is on the embassy website at southafrica.usembassy.gov.