Skydive for Rhinos 2012By Kevin Vester on 2012-09-03
In 2011, a group of dedicated conservationists decided to conquer their fear of heights in order to raise funds for South Africa’s rhinos. This initiative, started by six ladies from the African Conservation Trust, soon went viral, generating R500,000 (approximately $65,000) for anti-poaching and conservation of rhinos in the Kwazulu-Natal province, South Africa. What was initially expected to be a single event has grown into a national campaign, and led to Skydive for Rhinos 2012 www.skydive4rhinos.org.
Rhino horn has been prized for thousands of years for it’s beauty when carved, and for it’s supposed healing qualities. A common misconception is that it is prescribed as an aphrodisiac, but it is in fact thought to cure a number of illnesses and afflictions, from snakebite and typhoid to “devil possession”. As a result, all five species of rhinoceros are facing extinction. Three of these five species, including the Black Rhino which occurs in southern and eastern Africa, are listed as “critically endangered”. The White Rhino, Africa’s other species, has been saved from extinction only by conservation efforts. At present there are only 14500 White Rhino and 3610 Black Rhino left in the wild. The slaughter has reached epidemic proportions, it is estimated that over 1200 animals have been killed for their horns in the last four years. At present, South Africa is losing one rhino at a rate of more than one per day to poachers. So far 339 rhinos have been killed in South Africa this year, and even museum specimens around the world have been targeted for this highly lucrative illegal market in recent years.
This year, instead of 40 people jumping, the plan is for over 400 people to take the plunge. Last year, 448 rhinos were poached in South Africa alone so the plan is for at least that number of people jumping for rhinos in 2012. The target for fundraising is R10,000,000 (about $1,200,000).
Initially four events were planned, but The Ranch Skydiving Boogie and Symposium near Polokwane boosted this to five. At the time of writing, three of these events have already taken place and R5.5 million has been raised. The first event, which was held near Johannesburg at the end of July, saw 64 people make a tandem Skydive for Rhinos. 77 sport skydivers made their contribution at the Ranch event at the end of August, and 75 tandem jumps were made at Durban Skydive Centre in Kwazulu-Natal later that month.
The penultimate event is to be held near Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape on the weekend of 1-2 September, and Skydive for Rhinos will close off at Skydive Robertson, near Cape Town in the Western Cape. The end-of-campaign event at Skydive Robertson will coincide with World Rhino Day on 22 September 2012.
Numerous public figures, sporting stars, actors, actresses, models, television and radio personalities, presenters, producers, artists, conservationists, CEOs, directors, foundations, brands and organisations are behind the campaign and participating - significant awareness and exposure is being generated, along with the much-needed funding.
Elise Daffue, founder of www.stoprhinopoaching.com , was thrilled with her jump, “This was one of the scariest, most incredible and insane moments of my life!” she said. “From way up there you can see forever and I couldn't help but get very emotional, knowing that the rhino reserves and their security staff in the areas below us are being constantly challenged by poaching gangs. The huge significance of this campaign, each and every one of us facing our fears and taking a giant leap for rhinos, really struck home. What an amazing day with such inspiring people.”
Actress Michelle Bradshaw described her skydive as “The best thing I have ever done!”, and Don Airton of Zululand Rhino Reserve said “Thanks to you guys for everything, I think I’m still up there somewhere – thought I was flying like Superman!”
According to Mike Rumble, skydiving logistics coordinator for the campaign, ordinary South Africans whose ages range from 13 to 77 years are signing up for tandem skydives at these events. Each participant is raising money as an individual, with every cent going towards saving South Africa’s two species of rhino from extinction. The whole concept is not only good for rhino conservation, it’s good for skydiving.
A further bonus is that skydiving legend Olav Zipser, the “Father of Modern Freefly”, has signed up as a rhino ambassador. He attended the Ranch event and the weekend at Durban Skydive Centre, and will also be at the events near Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. So far more than 45 individuals have committed to making a tandem jump at each of the two remaining events.
“When Mike Rumble told me about the Skydive for Rhinos trip I loved it right away. I think it’s a great way to attract attention and make people kiss the sky in the name of the rhinos. These animals really need help and we can help them! To skydive for them and collect all your profit for the donation is a happy and good thing to do. Love it.” is what Olav had to say after jumping for rhinos at the Ranch and Durban Skydive Centre.
Skydive for Rhinos is certainly no publicity stunt, it is a committed and serious fundraising and awareness campaign with an international following. It is driven by a respected South African NGO, the African Conservation Trust www.projectafrica.com, which has been in existence for 12 years. The campaign also represents the power of skydiving and it’s participants to make a difference in any field where people have the passion to do so.
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