BOOKS: Rhinos and Elephants on the brink of extinction

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  October 2013: (Actually published on November 20,  2013.)

The Last Rhinos:  My Battle to Save One of the World’s Greatest Treasures by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence Thomas Dunne Books,  c/o St. Martin’s Griffin (175 Fifth Ave.,  New York,  NY  10010),  2012. 333 pages,  paperback.  $16.99.

Kony’s Ivory:  How Elephant Poaching in Congo Helps Support the Lord’s Resistance Army by Kasper Agger and Jonathan Hutson Co-produced by the Enough Project,  The Resolve,  Invisible Children,  & the Satellite Sentinel Project (with DigitalGlobe),  January 2013. 16 pages.  Free download from Enough,  1333 H St. NW,  10th floor,  Washington,  DC  20005;  <>.

The Last Rhinos,  by the late South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony and his brother-in-law Graham Spence,  and Kony’s Ivory,  by Enough Project staff members Kasper Agger and Jonathan Hutson,  offer superficially opposite perspectives on the role of the Lord’s Resistance Army in poaching,  particularly of elephants for ivory,  in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But perhaps these opposing views can be reconciled. Anthony,  who died on March 2,  2012,  soon after completing The Last Rhinos,  believed that the LRC had legitimate grievances against the several African national governments and international forces they are fighting.  He argued in The Last Rhinos that all sides in the 15-year-old conflict are culpable for atrocities including the recruitment and use of child soldiers and sex slaves,  that the LRC genuinely wanted peace but had good reason to not trust their foes,  and that the LRC could become a key ally in the effort to save the Garamba National Park wildlife––especially northern white rhinos.  Barely surviving when Anthony began negotiations with the LRC in 2006,  northern white rhinos are now officially extinct in the wild,  surviving only in captivity. Counter Kasper Agger and Jonathan Hutson,  “The LRA is now using elephant poaching as a means to sustain itself.  LRA leader Joseph Kony––wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity––has ordered his fighters to bring him elephant tusks.  Eyewitnesses report that the LRA trades tusks for much-needed resources such as food, weapons and ammunition,  and other supplies.” Both perspectives may be accurate.  Anthony approached the LRA at a time when a ceasefire was in effect,  the LRA had been encamped for long enough in relatively secure locations to support itself by growing crops,  and Kony’s second-in-command was Vincent Otti,  whom Anthony found to be sympathetic toward wildlife.  Anthony never met Kony.  Anthony brokered a deal with Otti that he hoped would save the northern white rhino and various other species,  and hoped would become the framework for peace in the Garama region,  too. But Anthony also encountered a mysterious rumor that he was expected to deliver $500,000 in cash to Otti.  This became part of his discussion with Otti only when Otti asked Anthony if he had the money.  Otti apparently was not actually expecting the money,  and did not mention it again when Anthony explained that he knew nothing about it and had no access to such a large sum anyway. Soon after Anthony and Otti reached agreement,  and Anthony was assured that Kony would support it,  Kony captured Otti––who was supposedly his oldest friend––and had him shot. It is plausible that Kony already had in mind supporting his continued insurrection through poaching,  and planted the rumor about the $500,000 as a pretext to kill Otti,  lest Otti’s negotiations with Anthony lead to a peace settlement which would depose Kony,  or at least weaken his position. Anthony acknowledged that he never really knew what happened,  or why. Anthony’s mission to Garamba came soon after the adventures that he and Spence recounted in their first collaboration,  Babylon’s Ark:  The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo (2007). Anthony was already struggling to prevent rhino poaching at the 5,000-acre Thula Thula wildlife reserve in Zululand when he journeyed to Garamba,  and was again fully preoccupied with battling poachers,  along with trying to prevent government elephant culls at Kruger National Park,  by the time his deal with Otti fell apart. The Last Rhinos brackets the Garamba saga with episodes from the anti-poaching efforts at Thula Thula. The Last Rhinos has been criticized for alleged lack of focus,  and for meandering away from animal issues into regional politics,  but such criticisms miss Anthony’s thesis,  also expressed in Babylon’s Ark,  that while wildlife perhaps cannot be saved without solving issues of sociopolitical and economic justice,  mutual concern about animals can sometimes bring warring factions to agreements which might,  with good faith effort,  lead to solving the apparently intractable big problems.  This argument would have been stronger if the deals Anthony brokered in both Iraq and the DRC had not quickly fallen apart when he left.                     ––Merritt Clifton   

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