BIG CAT SPECIALIST SETS HIS SIGHTS ON RHINO CONSERVATION

Giles Clark, conservationist and wildlife presenter, has become the latest Patron of Helping Rhinos

“I’m excited to be Patron, knowing that I am part of the contribution to save this iconic species. Helping Rhinos’ conservation philosophy mirrors my own. Yes, we need the emergency short-term responses of security and protection, but we also need a long-term holistic approach to conservation that maintains and creates safe habitats, with involvement at a local and national level, and the approach of Helping Rhinos demonstrates these beliefs.”

Clark is better known for his work with big cats but believes both carnivores and rhino are critical species to protect. “Big cats and rhino are both flagship species for conservation. There are thousands of lesser-known species that are as or more endangered as big cats and rhino but they are not as charismatic and engaging. If we can’t save these bigger guys, we have no hope of saving the others,” he says.

“I was lucky enough to meet the last Northern white rhino, Sudan a few times. I’ve had a few life experiences that were humbling and highlights, and this was one of them. It’s a stain on humanity that we drove such a magnificent species to the edge of extinction. There is not one rhino that has done more to highlight the plight of rhinos and African conservation than Sudan.”

Helping Rhinos CEO Simon Jones commented:
"I am thrilled that Giles has agreed to join Helping Rhinos as Patron. Giles will bring a lot of enthusaism, expertise and passion to our team of Patrons and I can't wait to start working with him on some exciting projects"

Giles Clark wIth Helping Rhinos CEO, Simon Jones

 

MEET GILES IN A LITTLE MORE DETAIL

HR: HOW DID YOU GET INTO CONSERVATION?

GC: I always knew I wanted to work with animals. I did some work experience at a  zoo, Paradise Wildlife Park, when I was about 14 years old, and since then my entire career has been based around wildlife conservation. I emigrated to Australia at 21 and led the Big Cats team at Australia Zoo until 2016, when I returned to the UK to head up the Big Cat Sanctuary in Kent.

It quickly became obvious to me that for conservation to work in captivity we need to look at the bigger picture of conservation, otherwise we have no justification for doing what we do. After four years at Paradise, I spent 18 months as a volunteer in India, working on tiger conservation. This set the foundation for me wanting to do everything I can to support conservation in the wild as this is ultimately where wild species belong.

YOU ARE BEST KNOWN FOR YOUR WORK WITH BIG CATS, SO WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO BECOME A PATRON OF HELPING RHINOS?

I’ve primarily worked with big cats but I’ve had experience and exposure to other species. At Australia Zoo, we had a herd of white rhino and I felt it was important to find a project in the wild to align with our rhino at the zoo. I was put in touch with Ol Pejeta Conservancy through Flora and Fauna International. I love Ol Pejeta’s model of conservation. I think they have got it right, taking a holistic approach to conservation. It’s successful and sustainable.

Helping Rhinos’ philosophy also mirrors my own. Yes we need emergency responses, but long-term, security and protection alone won’t save a species. We need engagement at every level – local and national – for long-term species conservation to work. Helping Rhinos demonstrates this approach. They identify immediate need and a longer-term holistic approach. There is the caring and compassionate aspect and the reintroduction to the wild with the rhino orphanage and the social aspect with the Black Mambas for example. I’m excited to be part of the contribution to saving this iconic species.

DO YOU SEE THE THREATS TO RHINOS AND BIG CATS AS BEING SIMILAR?

Definitely. Every species in an ecosystem plays a role, and we are just scratching the surface of understanding how ecosystems function and all these species interact with each other. Big cats and rhino both are flagship species for conservation. There are thousands of lesser-known species that are as or more endangered as big cats and rhino but they are not as charismatic and engaging. These bigger species are the big guns. If we can’t save these guys, we have no hope of saving the others.

WHAT DO YOU THINK SHOULD BE A KEY FOCUS FOR RHINO CONSERVATION IN THE COMING YEARS?

We must take a multi-faceted, holistic approach. With the horrific slaughter being raged against rhinos, it’s obvious we still need the emergency response, direct protection and security aspect of conservation. But then, we also need to create and maintain landscapes that are big enough to sustain large populations of wildlife. It can be done, for example we've seen success with mountain gorilla numbers starting to recover following dedicated conservation efforts.

We need to work in a coordinated fashion with all stakeholders to protect habitats and prevent the illegal sale of rhino horn. In addition, there is the dark cloud of legalising the sale of rhino horn, which we’ve seen can have a devastating impact as witnessed when a legal sale of ivory resulted in an unprecendeted increase in elephant poaching.

Wildlife does have a price associated with it, but that should be measured when we talk about ecotourism, and how we maintain healthy, functioning ecosystems for which people depend on, not for killing rhino and selling horn. It’s so dangerous and creating confusion among consumers and fuelling a demand for horn that we could never meet.

If we can protect flag bearer species like the rhino and tiger, then we know we have a somewhat intact ecosystem to support the next generation of species.

WE’VE HEARD YOU TALK ABOUT THE ‘SIXTH EXTINCTION’, WHAT IS THIS AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR RHINOS AND OUR PLANET?

The sixth extinction represents losing species from our ecosystems at a faster rate than ever before and ultimately that loss of species will have an impact on the human race. In environmental conservation there are so many issues and the problems seem so vast that people think they can’t do anything to help. But when we start talking about species as individuals, it becomes emotive and people are drawn to that.

The illegal wildlife trade represents suffering and is a contributory factor to this mass extinction. It’s horrifying and people can identify with it. It’s one of the major issues that people feel they can help with, and they can.

YOU’VE BEEN LUCKY ENOUGH TO HAVE MET THE LAST NORTHERN WHITE MALE, SUDAN, BEFORE HE PASSED AWAY. CAN YOU TELL US WHAT THAT WAS LIKE?

I was lucky enough to meet Sudan a few times. I’ve had a few life experiences that were humbling and highlights, and this was one of them. It was such an incredible privilege and I got a wave of excitement just being in his sheer presence. It was awe-inspiring but my overriding feeling was of emotion and sadness knowing that he was the last male of his kind.

It’s a stain on humanity that we drove such a magnificent species to extinction. There is not one rhino that has done more to highlight the plight of rhinos and African conservation than Sudan.

Giles was talking to Kate Lee