Bridgnorth businessman: Nelson Mandela asked me to tackle rhino poaching
Bridgnorth businessman Mike Kendrick was personally asked by Nelson Mandela to look into the situation of rhino poaching and do something about it.
He is a founder member of not-for-profit organisation Rhinos’ Last Stand, which has now pioneered a new ground-breaking solution to tackle the problem.
Following a successful trial earlier this year in South Africa, it has launched with backing from major figures across the globe.
The solution works by treating a rhino horn with four substances — an infusion of an animal and habitat-friendly liquid that is toxic to humans; an inedible pink dye to signal a horn as unfit for human consumption; a forensic DNA taggant unique to every rhino treated, and a UV marker for instant detection of the forensic DNA.
The toxin and inedible dye renders a horn valueless, and the risk of being caught and convicted is hugely increased thanks to irrefutable DNA evidence.
Rhinos’ Last Stand has brought together the very best expert teams in forensic DNA, anaesthetics, veterinary and animal welfare sectors to deliver this method of deterring poachers from killing rhinos for their horns. It has taken several years of bush trials to develop the product, resulting in infusing the first six rhinos with the four-part solution in April.
The six rhinos in South Africa are now safely roaming the bush with horns that are traceable and of no value.
Untreated rhino horn is more valuable than gold with markets in the Far East driving demand for the product, which is typically ground up and consumed for its so-called, but unproven, medical benefits — including as an aphrodisiac and hangover cure.
Aviation pioneer and entrepreneur Mr Kendrick, who has lived in Stanmore for more than 40 years, said: “During his later years, Nelson Mandela personally asked me to look into the situation of rhino poaching and do something about it.
"I began researching the problem, what was being done to protect the rhinos, and how forensic DNA, which was being used to effectively fight crime and deter theft, might help.”
Around the same time, Dr Lorinda Hern of Rhino Rescue Project was experimenting with ways to devalue rhino horn in South Africa.
“Lorinda and I formed a partnership to combine our teams’ expertise and devise a solution that is all-encompassing," Mr Kendrick said.
"This makes poaching, trading, possessing and consuming rhino horn high risk with no reward and provides irrefutable evidence of a crime.
"Essentially, it makes the rhino horn valueless and far too hot to handle.”
He added that significant attempts have been made over the years to stop poaching of rhinos for their horns, but they’ve focused on more patrols, more guns, and more penalties.
Unfortunately, they haven’t worked, as the risk of getting caught and convicted was very low.
All substances used in the new technique are painless, but the anti-parasitic is a toxin, which is extremely unpleasant if consumed by humans and instantly recognisable due to the pink inedible dye.
This will devalue the horn and reduce the marketability of the horn as a ‘miracle medical remedy’.
The infusion methodology is legally recognised by the South African government and permitting authorities, and is the only poaching intervention fully endorsed by the South African insurance industry.
Mr Kendrick, who runs Straightline Aviation in Stanmore, added: “In order for us to protect the rhinos we need support from across the globe, as well as the funds to infuse each and every surviving rhino before they become extinct forever.
"The first step along this path is to raise £250,000 to treat 40 rhinos by the end of summer 2019, before the weather becomes too hot for all involved to operate in the bush.
“We’ll then kick-start the second phase to treat another 2,460 rhinos, with the cost per procedure reducing as we benefit from economies of scale. We need to reach a figure of 2,500 in order to ensure a sufficient gene pool to save the species, but the ultimate objective is to treat all of the remaining rhinos.”
He was nominated for the award by long-time friend and former business partner Sir Richard Branson, following a lifetime in the balloon and airship industry.