Working on lift-off…

Whilst busy finishing a charcoal drawing of lift off on Hahnemuhle etching paper,  I am also preparing for my first Intaglio print.   I hope my etching will compliment the drawing I started during a previous blog.   I am influenced to use a painting of Clara the rhinoceros in my etching.  Clara, and Indian Rhinoceros, was being taken around Europe for at least 17 years –  in the painting I am inspired by,  Clara is shown to the public at the Venice Carnival and was painted by Pietro Longhi in 1751. My attempt is to focus on our complex relationship with the rhinoceros.

Photo reference material for the rhino drawing, was taken from the website and Youtube videos of Rhinos without Borders.  Theirs is an effort to translocate vulnerable rhinos to safer areas within bordering Botswana. These rhinos are mostly from private landowners within South Africa.  A leading luxury travel company, andBeyond and Great Plains Conservation are part of this initiative. By November 2017, 77 animals were safely in Botswana.  Currently many rhinos are being translocated to safer areas as well as to enhance gene pools.

I have now come to an understanding that humanity have seen and known about the imminent extinction of Sudan and the last Northern White Rhinoceros sup species without doing much to protect the species.  Their numbers started to decline since the early 1900s, due to unsustainable hunting practices, lack of coordinated conservation efforts by governments and escalating poaching, corruption and wars in these affected countries.

Poachers reduced their population from 2000  to 500 in the 1960s , and  to a shocking number of only 15 by 1984.  In 1977, all African rhino species were listed under Appendix I, and all international commercial trade in rhinos and their products was prohibited.   Till mid 2003 this population recovered to more than 32, however poaching has intensified and these numbers were further reduced.

I have done a lot of reading prior to starting my “exploration with lines’ writings, and a brilliant writing I enjoyed by prof Linda Kalof (published 2007) gave me wonderful context to understand (and attempt to draw) this complex  interrelationship between humans and animals informed by cultural norms, as well as the physical attributes and the real or perceived behaviour of animals. It inspired me to look at the history of art and animals such as a rhinoceros.  It is a visual narrative of  our fascination with strong, powerful and dangerous animals, symbols that could be used in rituals, festivals…. even making animals scapegoats and opening up all moral questions about animal cruelty.  The Four Stages of Cruelty, done by William Hogarth in 1751, where graphic torture against animals are shown as a logical progression to move from animal cruelty to humans influenced my mindset to look at the current horrific trafficking of animals and animal body parts within the criminal world.  The insatiable demand for rhino horn in the East is underpinned by age-old beliefs in its presumed pharmacological properties, in particular as an antidote against poison, to treat fevers and as a cure for cancer and other illnesses.

Whilst researching this topic, I found an interesting article at  SA, July 2014,  ‘The cultural and symbolic significance of the African rhinoceros: a review of the traditional beliefs, perceptions and practices of agra-pastoralist societies in Southern Africa”  (written by Jan C A Boeyens and M van der Ryst). Understanding this information as looking at rhinos in a pre-colonial period of Southern Africa, I believe this information should be seen as national heritage and be shared to evoke re action towards the poaching of rhinos for their horns, and driving the species to extinction. I do not know enough to have an opinion on Anthropology, but l understand their research has revealed that African cosmology, social life and material culture are marked by rich symbolism.

I take away with me the rhinoceros as part of Southern African metaphors, proverbs and rituals. The rhinoceros  as the ruler/ leader/political power and his ever following companion, the oxpecker bird… a friend or protector.  ( The Tswana people named this bird kala ya tshukudu, meaning the servant of the rhinoceros, an association which enriched the Tswana language with many metaphors). A cut from the breast of a slaughtered rhinoceros was the preserve of a chief and was received as tribute from his subjects. The presentation of a cut-off rhino head to a defiant leader or a subject chief conveyed a clear message that subordination would not be tolerated and that magic would be applied to restore the political order.  Praise poems of Tswana chiefs, regents and other aspiring leaders or heroes abound with references to the rhino as a leadership symbol. At least fifteen praise poems have been documented in which such dignitaries are either addressed or referred to as a rhinoceros, or are associated with characteristics or powers attributed to the rhinoceros. The rhino metaphor also features prominently in praise poems of Tswana chiefs. In this regard, too, there is a strong emphasis on the horns of the rhino as the key anatomical trait that epitomised the danger, aggression, authority, protection and military success of a leader. The front horn was not only a weapon of attack and defence, but its cutting action symbolised the final authority and decision-making responsibilities of the chief.  The rhinoceros were  hunted for its meat but various parts, such as the skin and horn, were used to fashion ornaments and weapons.  A special club of rhino horn served as a marker of chiefly authority. ( I will try to find a  photographic copy of this club in our National Museum of Cultural History)

african rhino horn club

Rhino horn club – I found this on a website (it says SOLD?)

Rhino horns and bones also featured in rainmaking rituals. Monoliths adorning the central courts of nineteenth-century Tswana towns, as well as the walls or courts of Zimbabwe culture and Venda capitals, most probably represented rhino horns, and so captured the key qualities of African leadership in the architecture of towns.

The remains of a few rhino figurines  that have been recovered from archaeological sites in South Africa tells that they served as “aids to memory” in lessons on traditional customs, norms and beliefs, and were mostly displayed at initiation ceremonies. It also seems that  the iconic golden rhinoceros from Mapungubwe “was most likely an emblem of royal power”.

golden rhino at British Museum

The power of the golden rhinoceros was  recognised by the first post-apartheid administration in South Africa, the African National Congress, the ANC appropriated the golden rhinoceros for the new South Africa and held it up as evidence of a southern African Renaissance before the arrival of Europeans. In 1999, the gold rhinoceros was designated a National Treasure.  In 2002, the ANC created the Order of Mapungubwe, the highest honour in South Africa, of which there are four classes: platinum, gold, silver and bronze.  Nelson Mandela was the first to receive the highest of these awards, platinum.  At the centre of the award is a representation of the gold rhinoceros.

Ps:This is directly taken from mentioned published article: “Trade in rhinoceros horn, ivory and tortoise-shell along the East African coast with Arabia and the Orient was first recorded in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a guide that was probably compiled in about AD 100 (Hall 1987: 78). Although there is no direct evidence, it seems plausible that unworked rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory tusks and probably gold could have constituted export items earmarked for external or international trade reaching the East Coast from Middle Iron Age communities in the Shashe-Limpopo Basin (Calabrese 2005: 350–2). Whether, or to what extent, perceptions and beliefs prevalent in the East about the presumed medicinal or supernatural properties of rhino horn would have permeated into the African interior is difficult to gauge, but the external demand for rhino horn would certainly have added to its local commercial value and enhanced its cultural significance. ”

I have decided to place my rhino being lifted to safety above the Union Buildings.  A question I want to leave the reader/viewer with, is:  what are we doing to save our white and black rhinos in South Africa?

IMG_4568 lift off

The villains must be put to the front in this war against Rhino horn poaching

Today we heard about the death of the last male Northern White Rhino in “captivity”. Sudan reached the age of 45, but lived in the Ol Pejeta  Conservancy in Kenya conservancy where he was being treated for age-related complications and guarded against horn poachers by caretakers. It is unknown if any Northern White Rhinos are alive in the rest of Africa.

Due to demand for rhino horn a rhino’s horn is now worth more than a  rhino! I want to start drawings and artwork that focus on Wildlife Crime with regards to the growing demand for rhino horn in countries such as China and Vietnam, being created by international criminal syndicates.   According to a recent report on underground investigative work done by Elephant Action League  in China, the black market for rhino horn and rhino products are alive and strong; smuggling on border towns between Vietnam and China are also rife. Local populations use the smuggling business as a means to support themselves and their families.  Reminds me so much of poachers living in poverty on the borders of our national parks and being used by criminal syndicates for their dirty work.  The disconnect between conservation and humans living in nature is so much part of my exploration.

Local communities living in rural areas as pastoralist come into conflict with wild animals and are increasingly feeling animals have a hogher value than their onw lives. In my readings it  is also argued that where governments are committed to tackling poaching and trafficking, their strategies are “fragmented” and often led by environmental agencies with little political power and no mandate to investigate organised crime networks fuelling poaching. “The potential for huge profits and comparatively low risk of punishment has attracted highly sophisticated criminal networks to this lucrative transnational black market.”

Wildlife Crime needs investigators, forensics and documentary work.  Crime syndicates are very efficient and adaptive networks.  The following information is from a report by EAL: ‘The magnitude of the illegal rhino horn trade is further highlighted when reviewing the quantity of horns hitting the market. According to a CITES report for CoP17, “illegal sourcing of horns from poaching, natural mortality, stockpile thefts, pseudo-hunting, and private sector sales suggests that an estimated 8,691 (2,674/year) rhino horns were obtained from October 2012 through 2015.  This represents approximately 20 tons of rhino horn moving out of Africa and into illegal trade in a mere three-year time span”  The EAL investigators found that wildlife contraband, including extensive amounts of rhino horn, flows easily through the China-Vietnam border into Guangxi, through both legitimate ports of entry and illicit land and water routes.

The Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime recently released a report written by South African investigative journalist, Julian Rademeyer, and according to the report, North Korean diplomats became involved in state-sanctioned rhino horn and ivory smuggling. Rademeyer found that 18 out of 31 cases of diplomats caught smuggling rhino horn and ivory in Africa since 1986 has been linked to North Korean diplomatic passport holders.

There are many international treaties, a majority of countries have strict wildlife crime laws and there are enough prosecutors and justice systems in place. Yet governments and national authorities are failing to enforce these laws, as corruption becomes systemic in a country.

Hunting during colonial times has also taken its toll on the rhinos and hunting practises of today of these animals can be seen as cruel and unsustainable.  It is also a very elitist market with strong opinions about sustainable conservation methods. ( I think I need to learn more about conservation methods, its history as well as  the environmental narrative.

Pres Rooseveld and rhino hunt

A few days ago I came upon above shown news about a rhino hunting expedition of Pres Rooseveld that made the New York Times.  At the time of this hunt, the Northern White Rino was on the brink of extinction.  The Smithsonian-Rooseveld Expedition or 1909 -10 has a popular exhibit of these animals in the National Museum of Natural History.



International Women’s Day

I have a strong urge to share a bit of this day with my beloved rhinos.  As you know my road with Exploration with Lines was literally put onto my easel by a rhino cow poached for her horn in a NorthWestPark.  During our days camping in that park, we were twice awakened at night ….. with sounds of grazing rhinos in the darkness of the night.  My heart goes out to the many rhino orphans whom are left devastated when the most important   ‘WOMAN” in their lives are killed by poachers….to feed the senseless needs of ignorant rich people, whom I wish could also visit a park where rhinos are just trying to be rhinos.

I started a new study this morning — a rhino being airlifted to a safer wilderness.  So absurd ….therefore I placed the scene in front of the Union Buildings in Pretoria.



I do hope for all woman the same, as for our rhinos:  that we can stay protected by a government who value us with all its powers: law, law enforcement, safe homes and safety… be who we need to be.

Happy Women’s Day to all you courageous women.

Poaching rhinos for their horn

By now it is becoming clear to me that very well equipped  trans national crime syndicates are committing  this crime, weak government structures and corruption contribute to the success of these criminals.   These international crime syndicates have money and will stop at nothing to get horns.


Currently an uncompleted study, contemplating: ..for Asian benefit.   I read somewhere that world renowned W Kentridge described the rhino as a symbol of an exploitative, colonialist view of Africa, a symbol for the subjugation of a continent stripped of its natural resources for European benefit.  

Poverty, inequality and lack of economic opportunity for communities living next to areas where rhinos are protected,  habitat loss, and corruption, are main drivers of a complex interaction between risks and rewards of committing poaching and trafficking of rhino horns. Many under cover operations in consumer countries such a Vietnam, China and Laos has produced evidence of trafficking and the black market of rhino horn. Vietnamese-run criminal syndicates have been found to be the financiers of criminal gangs poaching rhino populations in South Africa, where the country’s legal rhino-hunting industry has been exploited as an avenue to obtain and smuggle rhino horns. During 2007-2011 Vietnamese nationals were found to be the leading nationality for registered sport-hunting permits in South Africa.

IMG_4414Is it a GREEN crime scene any longer?  Criminals are networks dealing in more than one product and it involves lots of cash, money laundering and bribery.

Wooly Rhinoceros ( Coelondonta antiquitatis)

Looking at the first human encounters with rhinoceros I found amazing evidence of Wooly Rhinoceros drawings in Chauvet Cave as well as Cave Les Combarelles.  From sites in Russia and Asia ,beautiful horns were also gathered, with  fossil species to view at London’s Natural History Museum as well as the Ice Age Museum in Moscow.  Some are well preserved due to ice and oil saturated soils.  These readings motivated the start of my exploration with naturalistic style drawings of the horn and skull – I viewed the famous prints of Albrecht Durer and Jan Wandelaar.  I learnt that habitat threats and hunting  caused the Wooly type to become extinct around 10 000 years ago. I made a visit to the Natural History Museum in Pretoria, but was disappointed with the lack of fossil species, and or anatomical studies of our White and Black Rhinoceros… I wished I could visit London’s Natural History Museum.

their horns are not safe in a museum

A work in progress — how I fear that National HIstory Museums would become the only place to view the Rhinoceros species.

Information that also captured my thought process was numbers on Rhinoceros in the world.  By the start of the 20th century the numbers was at  500 000 in the world; by 1970 this worldwide population dropped to 70 000.  Today it is estimated that we have around 29 000 rhinos surviving in the world.  I surfed the WWW and sites like  Oxpeckers, RHODIS,  Rhinorecourcenter, Africa Wildlife Detective, the South African Dept of Environmental Affairs, Peace Park Foundation, WWF, International Anti Poaching Foundation, Havocscope, Global Investigative Journalism, National Geographic,  AmaBhungane, Interpol and daily newspapers cover stories of poaching and criminal cases with regards to poachers

and crime syndicates, became my daily informants and documentary of the plight of the Rhinoceros which I was now starting to take as my own artistic journey.

Who have we become as a species?

Over the last few months I have become an activist in my mind: my main aim to make an impact in the fight against wild life crime. I want to disrupt this process, I want to ask the questions that reveal truth and solutions, I want to challenge views and perceptions about wildlife in our neo-liberal economies. The poached and killed rhinos, the rhino orphans are a sad story about despair and cruelty, but the trafficker as the VILLAIN who controls and push the rhino horn consumption market, must also be exposed, for they benefit financially of ‘blood money’. I hope that conscious lines in my drawings and etchings will be taken over by art which is true and will bring clarity and a possible re- balance of our environmental and social values. I believe that the world need to come to a mindset that our natural resources are very vital to the world’s existence. In art history man showed admiration the the wild animals (Chauvet cave has 60 rhino images) – the speed, power, strength and danger these animals showed are visible in Palaeolithic cave art. During antiquity, with accumulation of wealth untamed nature and powerful animals were symbols of violence, war and struggle. For example, during the Roman period, the rhinoceros was a popular animal to be place in combat with another species because of his reluctance to fight. The animal would then be prodded, became angry, and once enraged he was invincible! After Rome fell animal traders would travel the countryside with performing animals. I read about Clara, a rhinoceros from India, who travelled Europe with her ‘handler’. This encouraged sales of rhino prints and engravings, and even a hairstyle for ladies was attributed to rhinos! I was influenced by a series of prints by an British artist, William Hogarth (The Four Stages of cruelty 1751) where cruelty and torture of animals were seen as a logical progression to move from animal cruelty to humans. Our society has become either indifferent to or encouraging violent behaviour. Natural history and hunting contributed to dwindling ecosystems and loss of wildlife. In our modernity with many issues concerning animal welfare, will I find a link between the oppression of animals and disenfranchised humans? I ask myself is animal conservation becoming a moral subject, can I stay an outsider? Brent Stirton, a photojournalist, referred to looking at the intersection of man and wild animals and that we cannot indulge in practices of consumerism of wild animals that lead to wasteful and cruel practices. JJ Rouseau asks: Has the progress of the sciences and art done more to corrupt morals, or to improve them? Evidentiary Realism may bring me to engage forensic investigations of the crime committed when rhino horn is poached and sold in the illegal market of wild life criminals and consumerism. It will put ecological realities in perspective, address polarised paradigms, expose truth about corruption, greed, consumerism and inequality — it will be a learning by doing my art.