Dear Comrade Edna Molewa, Minister of Environmental Affairs, Apex Predator of the Civil Service, Trader of Bones and Nemesis of Big Cats Everywhere.
Well done on your decision to allow fifteen hundred lion skeletons to be shipped out of the country over the next twelve months. That’ll teach them. They became insufferable after finding out that we call them the king of the jungle and their attitude has only worsened over the years.
You can’t go to the Kruger Park these days without coming across flocks of lions copulating openly on the roads. This is a terrible thing for our children to see. And if they’re not shagging they’re trying to bite a tourist’s head off. This is not the kind of behaviour we expect from our lions. During apartheid, yes. But not now.
Fifteen hundred skeletons. That means on average the bones of 4.2 lions will leave the country every day for a year. Since the lions are being broken up into pieces, it is technically possible to get .2 of a lion. You probably wouldn’t need much more than a shoebox for that bit. I suppose not everyone wants a whole skeleton. Smaller families might be happy with just a couple of scapula and a bag of vertebrae. If they’re lucky they might even find some tiger in among their lion.
It was a smart move not letting anyone know that you were doubling the quota and then making it retroactive to avoid upsetting our limp-wristed lion lovers while also preempting protests at the CITES meeting in Geneva where trophy hunting management with special focus on leopards and lions is being discussed. I don’t know what there is to discuss. Breed ’em, shoot ’em, skin ’em, sell ’em. If that’s not already your ministry’s motto, it should be. Take it, it’s yours. My gift to you.
South Africa has 3 500 lions in the wild and killing 1 500 a year will barely make a dent. Okay, maybe a small dent. But lions recover quickly. Maybe not from death, but certainly from sex. I once stumbled upon some kind of lion orgy where they were all going at it at once, boys on boys, girls on girls, it was terribly exciting to be honest. When we returned to our rondavel I pounced on my wife and attempted to take her roughly from behind, the preferred position of the Panthera leo, but it ended badly and medical assistance was required.
I assume at some point we will run out of wild lions. It’s a good thing, then, that we have so many kind-hearted people devoting their lives to raising lions in captivity. There are currently around seven thousand domesticated cats living in facilities which I am told are little more than luxurious feline brothels where they fornicate to their heart’s content. Not a bad life at all. I wouldn’t mind it for myself, even if it did mean waking up one morning and getting shot in the face, beheaded and deboned.
There is something I’m a little curious about. When I wake up in the morning (or sometimes afternoon) I often say to myself, “I could really do with scrambled eggs and a Bloody Mary right now.” But are there people somewhere in the world who say, “What a lovely day for a picnic. Have we got any lion bones left over?” Or however you’d say it in Mandarin.
As your Southeast Asian market knows, lion bones (licked, chewed or crushed and snorted) give you the strength, hairstyle and sexual prowess of a lion and you should be commended for encouraging this enlightened way of thinking. Just don’t let South African men get wind of this! They’d give up beer and switch to lion bone wine and there wouldn’t be enough lions in the world to satisfy that market.
Anyway, I’d be surprised if the United Nations didn’t want to award you some sort of medal for promoting the magical properties of big cat bones. Did you know that you can also get oil from snakes? We should totally be selling that, too.
I like the way you think, comrade. You said if the supply of lion skeletons from breeding facilities was restricted, dealers and addicts would simply get their fix through poaching or robbing the stockpile. And that would mean depriving a lot of people of the traditional kickbacks and bribes, the backbone of our economy.
Supply and demand feed off one another with all the enthusiasm of Hanoi villagers enjoying a rhino horn and lion bone blowout during the Tet festival. This is why it’s important that people like you keep dem bones coming. The government makes money, you make interesting new friends in the animal trade and our captive-bred lions are spared the indignity of growing old.
Speaking of dem bones, do you remember that song? The leg bone’s connected to the knee bone, the knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone’s connected to the Xaysavang Network, the Xaysavang Network’s connected to the Vannaseng Trading Company, the Vannaseng Trading Company’s connected to DKC Trading, DKC Trading’s connected to the Department of Environmental Affairs and so on.
While we’re getting nostalgic, I remember a time you could take the kids to the circus and they’d all want to be lion tamers when they grew up. Now they’re all going to want to be lion farmers. Or even taxidermists, like the adorable mom-and-son outfit Sandra Linde Taksidermie in the Free State province which has been shipping the bones of big cats to mainly Vietnam since at least 2009.
Have you heard that China has begun issuing permits for trade in leopard bones? Of course you have. You’re a woman who knows her business and it’s unlikely that you’d miss a chance to turn our wildlife into hard currency. So captive-bred leopards soon? Excellent. They’ve had it coming for a long time. Leopards are narcissistic and belligerent and they make almost no effort to be spotted by tourists who have paid a lot of money to tick them off the Big Five list. Get their bones out. Once they’re all gone, we can offer visitors the Big Four. Or maybe promote hippos into the premier league. Sure, they are overweight and not very bright, but in South Africa this is often all that’s required to be given a position of power.
Needless to say, a lot of people from vegetarian countries won’t want to come here once they realise our government is encouraging international trade in wild animal body parts while playing footsie with smugglers and syndicates, but that’s their problem. We don’t need their filthy euros.
Have you been to the Golden Triangle, by the way? I believe the pangolin pies, tiger skull soup and bear bile shooters are on special at this time of year. You can get anything you want in Laos. A lot of it will have been harvested from our very own animals, of course, but that’s no reason not to support the local traders.
With your commitment to conservation, comrade, you must have been awarded plenty of trophies. I bet your favourite is the buffalo.
Dear John Hume,
Congratulations on being the world’s largest rhino breeder. How big are you? Are you the size of a rhino? It doesn’t matter. For all I know, rhino breeders are tiny and you are simply the largest of these small people.
Most people keep dogs and cats, but not you, John. You’re a rhino person. It makes sense. Rhinos don’t sit on your keyboard while you’re trying to work. They don’t hog the couch or take up half the bed. You don’t wake up in the morning to a blast of rhino breath and have to get up and take him for a walk.
Of course, nobody would want to collect rhinos purely for their ornamental value. So it must have been terribly frustrating for you when trade in rhino horn was banned in South Africa in 2009. It would have driven me insane, seeing my rhinos standing about all day doing absolutely nothing to earn their keep.
What good are their horns if they’re not even being used to stab German tourists? At the best of times, rhinos don’t even know what to do with their horns. They just stand there staring at them all day. That’s why so many rhinos are crosseyed. A lot of them are also just plain cross. I suppose it’s because they’re not living at your place, the Playboy Mansion for rhinos, even if it is in Klerksdorp. Rhinos can’t tell that the place is a dump. Even if they did, I doubt they’d care. They’re just happy not to get shot in the face by a gentleman from Mozambique.
So it must’ve been a tremendous relief when the court forced the environmental affairs department to give you a permit to hold your three-day online auction this week. It’s a good thing we have an independent judiciary that knows the true value of one of our big five.
I tried to register for the auction but the R100 000 deposit was a bit steep. Pity. I was so looking forward to bagging a couple of the 264 horns for my own personal use. To be honest, I would have preferred a whole rhino so that I could cut his horn off at my leisure. If you buy a gram of coke, the dealer doesn’t expect you to schnarf it the moment money changes hands. You can take it home and shove it up your nose when the mood takes you. It should be the same with rhinos. Not that I’d schnarf rhino horn. I’m not from Hanoi, you know.
I understand you have 1500 rhinos in your garden. I bet you’ve never been burgled. It’s just occurred to me that rhinos could solve both our poverty and crime problems. Not literally. They’re not awfully bright. Although stick a couple of them in cheap suits and put them around the table at a cabinet meeting and I bet nobody would even notice their lack of input.
What I’m suggesting is that everyone gets a rhino farm. Or at least their own state-subsidised rhino. They make wonderful pets and even better guard dogs. Guard rhinos. I know I wouldn’t rob a house if there was a rhino curled up at the front door. And if you fall on hard times, you can chop his horn off and sell it. That’s R2-million right there. Keep the family in KFC for years.
Your job sounds like a lot of fun. Every couple of years, you grab your tranquiliser gun and run about shooting your fleet of ungulates in the bum. I’m sure they get a big kick out of the chase, too. It’s something to break the tedium, anyway. They fall over, have a little nap and wake up a kilogram or two lighter. We could all be so lucky.
When the horns grow back, you do it all over again. No wonder you have six tons of the stuff lying about the place. Must drive your wife crazy. There’s not much you can do with them either. Doorstoppers. Wind chimes. Something to hang your coat on. That’s about it. Then again, your stash is worth at least R500-million. That’s the kind of language any wife would understand.
The ban on international trade is still in place and your permit stipulates that any horns sold have to stay in South Africa. Of course they will. Our environmental affairs minister says systems are in place to prevent horns from reaching the black market. In fact, so secure are our borders that the only way to smuggle a horn out would be to take it to the Saxonwold shebeen, have it cling wrapped in R200 notes and couriered to the Waterkloof air force base.
I noticed that your auction website was translated into Mandarin and Vietnamese. This is nothing more than a happy coincidence. You are a man who embraces many cultures and not, as the vegetarians would have it, a man sending out a dog-whistle to the epicentre of the illicit trade in rhino horn.
An average of three rhinos are poached in this country every day. But, as you so rightly point out, flooding the ‘domestic’ market with hundreds of your horns will reduce demand and poachers will be out of a job in no time at all. It’s the same with marijuana. Legalise it and nobody would want it any more. Dagga farmers would have to start growing mielies and stoners would take up golf.
I read that a group called the National Frog Agency hacked your website, claiming that “your lack of common compassion for animals is outrageous”. Ignore them. What is more outrageous is that they can’t tell the difference between a frog and a rhino. This is what happens when you spend your afternoons licking hallucinogenic toads.
You were reported as saying that the proceeds of the auction – which could easily be R200-million – would be spent on protecting your herd. It’s an odd way to describe your family, but then I haven’t met them. Try to keep a bit of money aside for yourself. Buy something nice. Not another rhino. Something you don’t have to keep darting and sawing its nose off.
Listen, John. I have an idea for a movie. It’s called Saving Private Rhino. State Security Minister, David Mahlobo, would be perfect for the villain. I think we can get him. Throw in a free Thai massage and he’s ours. I would want to avoid getting into the whole black rhino, white rhino thing. This isn’t a movie about race. It’s about exploitation and getting as rich as possible off the backs of these dumb brutes. I’m talking about the actors, not the rhinos.
Let’s do lunch.
PS. Say hi to your good mate Dawie Groenewald, a trophy hunter and, like you, a true friend of the rhino. Obviously those 26 dehorned rhino found in a mass grave on his property died peacefully in their sleep. The poor guy is already facing so many charges here and now the Americans want to extradite him. You conservationists really do have a tough time.