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SOS Rhino : In the News : From poacher to protector

From poacher to protector

  September 7, 2004
By Tony Carnie
Daily News, South Africa

'I am different from my family line - my father was a poacher, but I have decided to protect the wild animals," says Kashu Parit, a 25 year-old Masai student currently exploring the wild places of KwaZulu-Natal.

"I am still a bit bitter with my father. He stole a gun and went hunting - and it is because of people like him that we can no longer see animals such as the rhino in the place where I come from."

Parit, from the Loita Hills region of Kenya, arrived here in June at the start of a six-month nature-guiding internship with the Durban-based Wilderness Leadership School.

"Apart from my formal studies, I'm also learning through practice, by helping to lead wilderness trails in KwaZulu-Natal.

"When I get back to Kenya, I hope we can adapt this idea by running similar wilderness trails in my country."

So far, Parit has been in-volved in five trails, the latest of which involved five English teenagers from the St James Independent School for Boys in Twickenham.

Parit spent 15 days with the English youngsters, trekking through the wilderness regions of Imfolozi Game Reserve, St Lucia and the Drakensberg-uKhahlamba mountains.

KwaZulu-Natal has a minuscule handful of legally declar-ed wilderness areas, covering about 0.05% of the province's land surface.

These are areas where access is strictly controlled by law to keep human impact to the barest minimum. Not even vehicles can enter. There are several other wilderness areas in KZN parks, but they do not enjoy full legal protection, including the famous Imfolozi wilderness area.

It was here that wilderness guide Paul Cryer, the St James boys and Parit ventured recently. They shared food and each other's company, slept under the stars, drank from the mud-dy waters of the White and Black Umfolozi rivers and took turns standing the night watch.

For 17-year-old student David Walters, one of the most mem-orable parts of his trip was the experience of not having to think about time.

"We agreed to take off our watches at the start of the trail and after that we stopped looking at the time and started to slow down."

For Luke Blackbourn, 18, spending time in the bush "away from civilisation" made him think twice about the value of television, computers and the technology which has been a central part of his life.

But while the St James students will doubtless remember their KZN wilderness trail as an unforgettable interlude with nature, Parit's experience in the wilderness has an imme-diacy which could shape his career and the future of his community.

He has to go back to very real nature and land-based conflicts in a region where lions, on occasion, still attack Masai cattle and where his people have been evicted from their ancestral land to establish government or private nature reserves.

"It is very sad that Masai in several parts of Kenya are going through a very rapid revolution in their traditional lifestyle. Many are still living as pastoralists. But others are starting to cultivate crops or making money by dancing for the tourists."

Parit also tended his father's cattle as a youngster and underwent the traditional Masai initiation ceremonies as a teenager.

Though he did not study at university, Parit attended a private high school and later became involved in community development work and joined a wildlife club.

He was attending a work-shop near Lake Victoria recently when he met Don Richards, a former Imfolozi wilderness trails ranger who arranged for him to visit KwaZulu-Natal on an internship.

"I live close to Naimina Enkiyio (The Forest of the Lost Child). It is one of our sacred forests, but there has been conflict between members of our community and some of the conservation groups, like the IUCN World Conservation Union.

"There are still elephants living in this forest, but most of the black rhinos were killed by poachers in the 1980s. My father was among those poachers.

"The community is worried about losing this land. Some of us want to be part of conser-vation - but there has to be a benefit for us."

He says many Masai people were ejected from their land in Ngorongoro Crater to establish a game reserve, so there is still "a bitter picture" for those who had to move.

"I understand that there has to be conservation - but it is very hard for the community to be transplanted from where they are now living in the forest."

* The Wilderness Leadership School was founded in 1957 by Dr Ian Player and Magqubu Ntombela. Since then more than 14 000 people have been on trails, including more than 70 members of parliament or provincial councillors.

The trails vary in length from five to 15 days and emphasise the need to restore and maintain balance between humanity and nature.

* For more information, contact the school at 031 462 8642 or email:

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