Kids campaign to save South Africa's rhinos from poaching

Jeremy Hance
August 09, 2012

Carter and Olivia Ries give a presentation about rhino poaching at the Cochran Mill Nature Center in Palmetto, Georgia. Photo courtesy of OMG.
Carter and Olivia Ries give a presentation about rhino poaching at the Cochran Mill Nature Center in Palmetto, Georgia. Photo courtesy of OMG.

The young founders of the U.S. conservation group, One More Generation (OMG), have taken on a new task: halting rhino poaching in South Africa. After a trip last year to visit South Africa, Carter Ries (age 11) and Olivia Ries (age 9), have jump-started a campaign to help convince the South African government to put more resources into halting a rhino poaching plague in the country. Last year an astounding 448 rhinos were killed in South Africa for their horns, averaging more than one rhino a day.

"Rhinos have been around for millions of years, it is only because of the greed of some humans that they are almost gone," Olivia Ries told mongabay.com.

Rhinos are being targeted for their horns, which are considered medicinal according to Chinese Traditional medicine. However, a number of scientific studies have found no medicinal properties in rhino horns, instead consuming rhino horns has been dubbed the equivalent of eating hair or fingernails as they are made largely of the same material: keratin.

OMG is hoping to collect over a thousand letters to South African president, Jacob Zuma, which they plan to deliver personally to him early next year. South Africa is home to two rhinos species: the white rhino (Ceratotherium simum) and the black rhino (Diceros bicornis). The white is currently listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List, while the black is considered Critically Endangered.

Partnering with the South African NGO, SPOTS (Strategic Protection Of Threatened Species), OMG has also launched a presentation on rhino poaching that can be downloaded free on their website. Carter, Olivia, along with new board member Naseem Amini (age 12) and volunteer Neda Amini (age 9), recently gave a presentation at the Cochran Mill Nature Center in Palmetto, Georgia, and they encourage others to do the same.

"We wanted to create a presentation that would be available for kids (and adults) to have easy access to so they could give their own presentations in their schools and communities. We want an army of kids all over the world to start making presentations and telling everyone that we all need to get involved," Carter Ries says.

OMG, which was founded by the Ries siblings in 2009, needs help gathering the thousand letters—including pictures from young children—which can be sent to their PO Box or email address (for more information see below).


White rhino in Kenya. Photo by: Rob Roy.
White rhino in Kenya. Photo by: Rob Roy.

Mongabay: Why should kids be worried about rhino poaching in South Africa?

Olivia Ries: Rhinos have been around for millions of years, it is only because of the greed of some humans that they are almost gone. Rhinos are a key part of the ecosystem. If we let them disappear, it will effect many other species who depend on them for their very survival. At the current rate of poaching, rhinos WILL become extinct in our lifetime unless we act now.

Mongabay: What would you like to see President Zuma do help the nation's rhinos?

Carter Ries: The South African government needs to intervene now before it is too late. It has been proven that Rhino horn has no medicinal value and it is up to the South African government to get serious about saving this iconic species. President Zuma needs to provide military support to battle the organized poachers who are laughing at how easy it is to take whatever they want from South Africa without much consequences. Stiffer penalties and tougher fines need to be handed down to anyone involved in the poaching or attempted export of illegal rhino horn and or other animal parts.

South Africa also promotes itself heavily as an ecotourism destination, the idea of a photographic safari is to attract more eco-friendly clientele that won't diminish its ecological and natural resources and at the same time present a more pleasant image to the rest of the world. However, by President Zuma not addressing the poaching and illegal hunting problem aggressively, that might indicate that there is no long term strategy to conserve the wildlife and basic conservation principles are not adhered to. Sometimes foreign hunters enter the country pretending to be legal hunters, but they hunt to get hold of the horn and it is not necessarily a trophy hunt. This needs to stop.

Mongabay: You recently visited South Africa. Were you able to see rhinos in wild? If so, what was that experience like?

OMG Founders and Board Members. Photo courtesy of OMG.
OMG Founders, Carter and Olivia Ries, and new Board Member, Naseem Amini, with volunteer Neda Amini (seated). Photo courtesy of OMG.
Olivia Ries: Yes, we did travel to South Africa last December and we did get to see both the white rhino and the black rhino in the wild. It was amazing. My brother and I had seen a Rhino in the zoo before but we were not prepared for how majestic they looked in their natural habitat. Rhino's are gentle giants and they harm no one. Africa is known for having the Big-5 (Elephants, Lions, Water Buffalo, Leopards and Rhino). Tourists from around the world come to see the Big-5. South Africa sells tons of tourist items advertising the Big-5. Unless we all get serious about saving the species, it will soon be known as the Big-4.

Mongabay: What did you learn about conservation from meeting with people in South Africa?

Carter Ries: While we were in South Africa, we worked with the folks from Jane Goodall's Chimp Eden, IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) and CLAW (Community Lead Animals Welfare). We also went into the poor townships outside of Johannesburg and spoke with the residents. Everywhere we went we heard the same comments, "Africa is a wonderful country with amazing animals for everyone to see, but unless the whole world sees what is going on over here and gets involved to help, we will soon be a poor country full of shame for what we have allowed to happen."

Mongabay: Tell us about your 'Community Rhino Presentation'. How do you hope this will be used?

Carter Ries: When we heard that poachers were brutally hacking off the horns from at least one Rhino everyday and leaving them to die, just so they could sell the horns to folks in Asia, we knew we had to get involved. We reached out to the kind folks at SPOTS (Strategic Protection Of Threatened Species) over in South Africa and asked how we could help. SPOTS has been working to help protect Rhino's and other threatened species for years and we knew that with their expertise we could come up with a way to get everyone involved.

SPOTS helped create our 'Community Rhino Presentation' which is packed with lots of facts that most of us never knew about the Rhino poaching issue. We wanted to create a presentation that would be available for kids (and adults) to have easy access to so they could give their own presentations in their schools and communities. We want an army of kids all over the world to start making presentations and telling everyone that we all need to get involved. Each one of us will lose if the rhinos are allowed to be poached out of existence.

Mongabay: How can kids help your cause?

Olivia Ries: We need every child reading this and their parents to get involved. Each kid can approach their teacher and ask if they can make the presentation to their classmates or even to the entire school. Our goal is to get at least 1,000 letters all addressed to President Zuma asking him to get involved before it is too late. We want younger kids to draw or color-in pictures and write a brief message about how much they care for rhinos. We need older kids and adults to write letters as well. They should review the presentation and then write from their hearts, tell the President what they are felling and what they want him to do. Then send us the letters either via email or to our P.O. Box. If we are successful getting the 1,000 letters, we plan on personally hand delivering them to President Zuma ourselves in early 2013. Hopefully the voices of kids all over the world will move President Zuma to action and we will be able to save this great species for at least One More Generation... and beyond.

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(02/22/2011) Many American children under ten spend their free time watching TV and movies, playing video games, or participating in sports, but for siblings Carter (9 years old) and Olivia Ries (8) much of their time is devoted to saving the world's imperiled species. The organization One More Generation (OMG) not only has a clever name (yes, it is meant to pun the common Oh-My-God acronym), but may have the two youngest founders of an environmental organization in the US. "We started OMG because it hurt our hearts to know that there were so many animals in danger of becoming extinct," Carter told mongabay.com. OMG, which is run with help from the Ries' parents as well as an impressive list of conservation and wildlife experts, has taken on a number of local and international campaigns, including raising money for cheetahs, working against throw-away plastic bags, and taking action to change the US tradition of Rattlesnake Roundups where thousands of rattlesnakes are killed for a community festival.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (August 09, 2012).

Kids campaign to save South Africa's rhinos from poaching .