Rian Labuschagne

Name ID 1132

external link

See also

Claytor, Tom Bushpilot
Extract Author: Tom Claytor
Page Number: 18f
Extract Date: 1996 July 03

Rian Labuschagne

On the southern edge or the crater rim sits the Ngorongoro airstrip. Landing here feels like coming in to land on an aircraft carrier. The wind currents flow up the inside face of the crater rim and push you up just when you want to come down. I touch down with my eyes peeled for any wildlife that might dart out in front of me at the last second. I am given a lift to Rian Labuschagne's house on the crater rim. Rian's address is Box 1, Ngorongoro, and he shares this with about 40,000 Maasai. The postcard that I sent him from Malawi said that I was coming 'anytime from now,' so he and his family are pleased to see me.

Rian and his wife Lorna are from South Africa. They live with their two young children here on the crater rim in a house called baridi (because it's cold). Previously, South Africans were not allowed in Tanzania, but now the Tanzanians are pleased to learn from their wildlife expertise. The first thing that struck Rian when he came here is that there are no fences. In South Africa, wildlife is over-managed. Here, there isn't much money, but there are wide open spaces. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is 8,300 square kilometers, and the Serengeti Park is 14,760 square kilometers. Rian is working as an advisor for the Ngorongoro Rhino Conservation Project.

When Rian first arrived here, he felt a little ignored and frustrated. No one really spoke English, and no rhino had been poached here for the last ten years; he felt that nothing was wrong. Then in April 1995, a rhino with a nine month old calf was poached. Its horn was cut off, and the carcass was cut open so the lions and hyenas could eat the evidence faster. Rian and his two children take me to a steep path over the edge of the crater rim. A few meters down the path, Rian is nearly finished constructing a blind. This structure is for watching the foot patrols and vehicles at night during their rounds on the crater floor. 'They can't get away with hacking around now,' Rian tells me. I recall some of the smart anti-poaching operations that I had worked on in Namibia which were run by South Africans, and I can't help but smile. Rian tells me that he has organized different group leaders who are only in for a week at a time. They draw coins with different numbers stamped on them to determine what duties they will have. This may seem extreme, but I also have come to learn that the rhino's biggest enemy in Africa has always been his askari (guard). In North Yemen, Rhino horns sold for $35 a kilo in 1970; nine years later, they were selling for $500 a kilo. The rhino population in the crater dropped from 78 in 1976 to 26 in 1978. The number of black rhino remaining today is kept secret. There were also a number of spearings by the Maasai. Between July 1959 and December 1960, the Maasai killed or wounded 31 rhino with spears; 8 of these were in the crater. This was primarily due to their resentment of being removed from the Serengeti Park. They knew this was a good way to get back at the government. Rian explains all sorts of population statistics to me from over the years, and I can see clearly how valuable all these statistics become through the course of time in trying to determine the best strategies for saving the rhino.

Extract ID: 3650

external link

See also

Claytor, Tom Bushpilot
Extract Author: Tom Claytor
Page Number: 18g
Extract Date: 1996 July 03

anti-poaching

We drive down nearly 2,000 feet to the crater floor below. I feel like I am on a journey to the center of the earth. I have never been down here before. Rian explains that foot patrols are the most important defense to poaching. He says that a horse is good, like they use in Etosha Park (Namibia), but then you need backup. He says motorcycles are also good, like they use in Kruger Park (South Africa), but they give you away and you have to watch the road. 'There is no such thing as a bad field ranger,' Rian tells me, 'but they are only as good as their leader.' We arrive at the anti-poaching camp, and group leader Corporal Mbelwa assembles his men for me to inspect. There is a map of the area on the wall, and bunking quarters for the scouts. I like the scouts. These are the guys who make their living by trying to save rhinos. They are formal and disciplined on the outside, but behind all the guns and camouflage uniforms are the warm smiles of Africa. The thing Rian has learned the most since his arrival in Tanzania has been patience. It can cost up to $50 to send a one page fax or up to $100 to telephone his parents on a bad line, so communications are difficult. He also reminds me that he is just an advisor here, so all of his ideas and thoughts have taken time.

What I enjoy the most about Rian, is that he has been interested to learn the ways of the Maasai. He tells me that they are very proud people, but they are useless for manual work. The Maasai warrior has five different age groups, and the weapons carried by the different age groups are all different. They will also have two different leaders - a diplomatic leader and a war leader. Today, there is a certain amount of racism towards the Maasai. They are considered to be underdeveloped by other Africans. In the past, the Maasai used to raid cattle. They can't now; the times are changing. I find it interesting to see how a previously superior race is now becoming inferior to a modern day system. Now, when you steal a cow, you go to jail. Clement is a traditional Maasai, and he speaks English with an American accent. He spent some time assisting an American researcher studying baboons in the crater, and now he is Rian's advisor on traditions and practices here. He is 50 years old, and he explains to me that when he was 13 and the Maasai were living inside the crater, they used to play a children's game. One child would place something on a sleeping rhino, then the next child would have to take it off. The Maasai are fearless in the field; they have no problem with walking from here to Serengeti with just a blanket, even at night, and this is learned at an early age. Each day about 70 Maasai are permitted down into the crater with up to 1,000 cattle. They must have a permit to go down, and they must be out at night. There are 3 water holes down there, and it looks good to see the Maasai living as they must have for so very long - surrounded by wildlife. Time are changing though. In September 1992, the Maasai were allowed to cultivate inside the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. This was an emergency measure due to the drought, but the Maasai are now demanding cultivation so that they can continue to grow their corn and potatoes to sell outside.

Extract ID: 3651

external link

See also

Claytor, Tom Bushpilot
Extract Author: Tom Claytor
Page Number: 18j
Extract Date: 1996 July 03

Bhejan knives

I have loved my time spent with Rian and his family in this place. Rian is a man of passion. When he was in Kruger park, Fritz Rohr showed him how to make knives. There is a secret balance between the chromium and carbon in the steel which is important. If you have too much chromium, the knife won't hold the edge; if you have too much carbon, the blade will be too brittle and not 'stainless'. Rian has made about four or five hundred knives now. He enjoys making things and the organization and creation process involved. He calls his knives Bhejan which is the Shangaan name for black rhino. I met many Shangaan trackers when I was in South Africa, so I know he respects their knowledge of the bush. As I load my kit up into the plane, Rian hands me one of his knives. I have never seen this design before. It has a beautiful ebony handle and perfectly shaped blade designed for skinning animals. The case has Bhejan stamped on it. He looks at me and says, 'Maybe this will help you get home safely?'

Extract ID: 3655

external link

See also

Claytor, Tom Bushpilot
Extract Author: Tom Claytor
Page Number: 18j
Extract Date: 1996 July 03

Rajabu the rhino

Rian tells me about Rajabu the rhino who decided one day to climb up the steep crater rim and walk to Lake Ndutu and then on to Moru kopjies. There are some wonderful names here: mto-wa-mbu means place of the mosquitoes, and koitoktok is a spring which means bubbling water. I get a brief tour of Rian's workshop behind his house. This is where Octa works. Octa is an Mbulu from the Ngorongoro plateau, and he is a mechanic who has never had any mechanical training. Rian shakes his head as he tells me how one day Octa can have a gearbox on the floor in hundreds of pieces, and a few days later it will be back together in one piece; and it will work. Rian writes me a letter to present to a conservation officer in Ndutu who can sometimes be difficult. Rian smiles and tells me that he and Octa keep his land rover running, so he shouldn't give me any trouble.

Extract ID: 3654
www.nTZ.info