a southern yankee abroad



Change the Game: The Economics of Saving the Rhino


If there is such thing as a modern day dinosaur, the rhino comes close. It was like stepping back in time, as I watched these majestically ancient creatures move purposefully under the shade provided by the trees’ small branches. I found myself in awe of their presence. I tried not to breathe very loudly, as the rhino fixed his beady eye on me. If he wanted, the rhino could have plowed through the shade trees, easily uprooting them, before making his way to and through myself and my fellow travelers crouched low in the grass just a few yards away. However, the peaceful and friendly nature of these rhinos put me at ease, and I knew they were content to have me in their backyard, so long as I didn’t make too much noise! I fell in love with these easygoing creatures.

The issue is we are losing these animals.

One of the most magical but least expected highlights of my trip to Africa in December was the day I spent tracking the white rhinoceros near the Matopos with Ian Harmer of African Wanderer Safaris. I have always considered myself to have a respectable level of concern regarding animal and wildlife issues. However, spending a day with the rhinos of Zimbabwe made me passionate about the fight to save the rhino from extinction. I was stunned by what I learned—it is estimated two rhinos are killed each day, and poaching has grown considerably in the last 10 years. In 2007, 13 rhinos were poached in South Africa. In 2015, 1,215 rhinos were poached. At this rate, there will be no more rhinos left in the world within the next 10 years, in the wild or in captivity.

Snack time!


Why are the rhinos dying?

Rhinos across southern Africa are the target of organized poaching schemes driven by the economic forces of the illegal horn trade across Asia. Some Asian cultures believe rhino horn holds special medical power (everything from boosting male virility to curing cancer). The rhino horn can be worth up to twice its weight in gold in these markets. Poachers have advanced systems involving helicopters and infrared technology to track and kill the rhinos, often in the most inhumane ways possible. Ian shared a heartbreaking story from several months back about finding a rhino he had “grown up with” left for dead on the side of the road after the poachers had cut his face off to take his horn. In an effort to protect the rhinos in the fight against the poachers, rangers at the Matobo National Park carry machine guns and are mandated to shoot and kill suspected poachers on the spot.

With an armed guard in the park

Perhaps the biggest tragedy of all is that rhinos do not have to die or suffer to give up their horns. In fact, cutting a rhino horn is similar to clipping a human’s fingernails or toenails—if done correctly, the process is easy and pain-free. The staff at the Matobo National Park regularly cuts the horns of the rhinos in their park, in order to make them less of a target for poachers. This is unlike the elephant’s tusk, which is essentially a tooth instead of a fingernail. Elephants must be killed to extract the tusk.

How can we save the rhino?

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has been instrumental in working to protect the rhino and eliminate illegal horn trading. CITES meets every three years and has a standing committee specifically focused on the rhino. Recently, CITES has pushed for the government of Vietnam to conduct “consumer behavior research” in an effort to develop strategies to decrease demand for rhino horn, as well as to impose stiffer penalties for those participating in the illegal market.  CITES has also mandated Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe to continue their efforts to coordinate along their borders to stop poachers, as well as to implement penalties for poachers more consistently. For example, in 2013, Mozambique issued a higher number of poaching fines than ever before, yet only 3% were paid.

The challenge is finding a solution that will prevent the rhinoceros from becoming extinct. It is quite difficult to change mindsets and alter economic pressures over a given period of time, and even more so when the time is severely limited given the rate that rhinos are being poached. What if the trade of the rhino horn became legal? Until 2009, domestic trading of rhino horn was legal in South Africa. It was made illegal in 2009 as a response to the spike in poaching. What about international trade of rhino horn? CITES banned this in 1977, in an effort to protect already dwindling rhino numbers. Despite these bans, the poaching issue has become considerably worse over the last decade, and we are now facing the possible extinction of the rhino.

Since it is painless to cut the horns of rhinos (or “dehorn” them), rhinos could be farmed like cattle and dehorned regularly, thus better protecting them from poachers and generating a profit for the farmers and benefitting the local economy. Also, poachers will be de-incentivized, as a legalized trade would increase supply and lower prices. However, there is always the risk that legalizing the trade could have the opposite effect of increasing demand, in which case poachers would still have inducement to poach. Also, given the demand for rhino horn is primarily in Asia, a ban on domestic trade of rhino horn is a non-issue, as there is really no domestic market. It seems a lift on the international trade ban would be the key driver of this solution.

CITES will have their triennial meeting this September in Johannesburg, South Africa. Without doubt, there will be continued debate on what policies would be most effective for protecting the rhino. I hope the leaders at CITES realize the current strategies have been ineffective, and time is running out for the rhino unless we change the game.



Beauty Tips for the Female Backpacker

Because we don’t all “wake up like this,” Beyonce!

Living out of a backpack for an extended period of time presents a special challenge for the beauty-conscious traveler. Below, I’ve listed a few tips to keep yourself looking great so you can focus on the beauty around you while exploring!


  1. Just mascara, lipstick, and a bronzer/blush go a long way. Depending on your destination, you may find it is easier to wear no makeup at all (I often have!). However, it is always nice to have a few staples on hand for those nights you want to doll up. When you have to pack everything you need for a few months in a backpack, space is very limited. Pick out the 2-3 essentials you truly depend on from your makeup kit, and leave the rest at home. For me, this is mascara, lipstick, and bronzer.
  2. If you straighten your hair regularly, consider getting a Brazilian keratin treatment. If you have hard to manage hair that reacts unpredictably to humidity (like me!), a Brazilian keratin treatment from a salon will do wonders. For me, the treatment completely eliminates the need for a blowdryer and straightener. Post-treatment, my hair air-dries in half the time and maintains a manageable texture, eliminating the need for a straightener! This is extremely helpful, considering space in my backpack is limited and a blowdryer and straightener would take up a good amount of room. Also, being able to shower and go without worrying about my hair saves so much time on the road, leaving more time for visiting with fellow adventurers and sightseeing! The treatment can be a bit on the pricey end (ranging from $80 to $300), but lasts for 3-6 months. Make sure you only use sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner to make it last longer. I like the Organix and Aveeno brands, often available in travel sizes at drugstores.
    Wet hair, don’t care! Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe


  3. If you must pack a straightener, purchase a mini-straightener. This will save a good bit of space! While I am not packing this for my summer travels, I love my trusty Mini Flat Iron from Sephora. If you absolutely cannot live without it, this tool will save a lot of room while packing.
  4. Dry shampoo and baby powder work miracles. In case you don’t have time to wash your hair between exploring all day and going out in the evening, a dry shampoo will add volume to your hair and give it a fresh look. I recommend Not Your Mother’s Clean Freak Dry Shampoo in an airline-approved travel size (pack a few cans!). This is available at most drugstores. Old-fashioned Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder applied at your roots provides the same benefits at a cheaper price.
  5. Use sunscreen with a minimum SPF 50. Even if you “don’t burn” (which is usually my case…until it isn’t!), you will when you’re exploring non-stop in the sun from dawn to dusk. I recommend Coppertone Sport in a travel size, which is waterproof (pack a few!). I prefer a lotion to a spray, as a spray can leave unsightly streaks if you are not extra careful when applying.

    The “bushman’s soap” (found in the bush of southern Africa) will provide instant soothing and healing to a severe sunburn. All you have to do is find the Devil’s Thorn plant in the bush and apply water!
  6. Pack a hat or two, as well as a Buff. Hats are great for keeping the sun off of your face and your hair in place in all weather conditions. I always pack a trusty baseball cap, a straw brimmed hat, and a Buff. A Buff is a convertible headband/bandana piece, and it’s great because you can wear it so many different ways! They also come in a variety of colors and patterns. I always keep one tied to my backpack just in case I need to get my hair under control at any given moment.
I also highly recommend purchasing matching hats with your friends you make while traveling when possible!

7. Just let go and embrace the natural! I am someone who enjoys consistently wearing makeup in my regular everyday life. It makes me feel ladylike and put-together. As my grandmother says, if the barn needs painting, paint it! However, part of the beauty of traveling is just going with the flow. While in Africa, I did not wear makeup at all until the very end of the trip (and only because it was Christmas night, and we celebrated by dressing up and having a braai!) Not wearing makeup was truly a liberating experience, and I feel like I grew more comfortable in my own skin as a result. Stay focused on the experience, and your inner glow will provide all the beautification you need!

Embracing the makeup-free life while hiking in the beautiful Matopos, Zimbabwe!


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