Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Picture: SOWETAN
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Picture: SOWETAN

IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi was among several people honoured on Monday night for his long-standing commitment to rhino conservation.

Speaking at the annual Rhino Conservation Awards at Montecasino‚ Buthelezi said he had been mocked many years ago for "caring more about animals than people".

"When a country is waging a liberation struggle‚ giving attention to wildlife is seldom considered a priority. But to me it was important. Because I wanted more than a political victory for SA. I wanted a rich inheritance … Where I risked my reputation‚ conservationists now risk their lives‚" he said.

Several of the men and women at the front line of Southern Africa’s rhino war were also honoured at the gala dinner in Gauteng for producing "ripples of hope" that the bloody tide of horn poaching can be turned.

These include the entire ranger staff of the southern section of Kruger National Park and a number of conservation workers from Angola and Namibia.

Tyson Maluleke‚ Julius Sibuyi and Wilson Siwela — all from the Kruger — were singled out for special mention for their "courage and conviction" in the field ranger category of the annual awards.

The awards scheme was set up six years ago to raise awareness about rhino poaching and to recognise exceptional conservation efforts by individuals and organisations.

Sponsored by private funders‚ the awards are supported by the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Game Rangers Association of Africa.

Paying tribute to the winners‚ Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa quoted from a speech by late US senator Robert F Kennedy: "It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal‚ or acts to improve the lot of others‚ or strikes out against injustice‚ he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope."

Every year‚ she said‚ rangers were injured and killed in the line of duty.

"The loss of our rangers to the bullets of criminals is a stark reminder of the severity of the threat posed by the transnational illicit wildlife trade‚" she said.

The overall winner of the conservation practitioner category was the entire Kruger National Park’s Marula South ranger team. The runners-up were the Namibian Conservancy Rhino Ranger Incentive Programme‚ and SANParks regional ranger Don English and section ranger Craig Williams.

The winner in the best political‚ investigative or judicial support category was Jabu Qayiso‚ who has more than 20 years’ experience in environmental crime investigation. Buthelezi was announced as the first runner-up‚ followed by Frik Rossouw from Kruger National Park.

Adam Pires and the Endangered Wildlife Trust won the best rhino conservation supporter award. Richard Mabanga‚ cultural ambassador for the Rhino Art — Let the Voices be Heard campaign‚ was selected as runner-up‚ along with husband-and-wife team Steve and Perry Dell, from the Pilanesberg Wildlife Trust and the Rhino Poaching Unit.

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