Launched in 2014 by Dr. Mike Slattery, the TCU Rhino Initiative teams up with South African wildlife vet and rhino conservationist, Dr. Will Fowlds, to help save the rhino population and safeguard their survival. Due to brutal poaching at a rate of over three per day, the population of rhinos in South Africa is seriously threatened. By 2014, Rhinos were being poached at a rate of 100 per month, loosing just over 1,200 rhinos that year. This chilling trend has continued year after year, and the outcome will be that our generation will loose rhinos to extinction. The TCU Rhino Initiative gets students into the field to experience working with rhinos and have exposure to wildlife preservation creating lifetime advocates for animals.
Dr. Mike Slattery is currently the Director of the Institute for Environmental Studies. Dr. Slattery has led several biodiversity and conservation programs in Costa Rica and South Africa, written over 80 scientific articles and published four editions of Contemporary Environmental Issues.
How did you get involved with TCU Rhino Initiative?
I was awarded a $25,000 grant from TCU as a part of the Global Innovator program. This initiative focuses on a specific region each semester, and the goal is to help bring someone to campus who is doing transformative work in their respective communities. I approached Dr. Will Fowlds, renowned wildlife vet and rhino conservationist in South Africa, to visit TCU and spend a week here immersing our students in the so-called “rhino crisis” – an environmental catastrophe in which we are losing one rhino every 8 hours to poaching. That visit started the collaboration, which has now blossomed into a full-fledged program at TCU.
What are some impact stories from your trips to South Africa?
Well, we have taken three groups of students on the course, entitled “Biodiversity and human development in South Africa.” Every single one of them has come back transformed. Those trips have helped fund several rhino procedures on the ground but there have also been follow-on courses on campus every fall, where students take the poaching crisis and develop a TCU-response. One year that entailed an awareness campaign on campus led by our Vietnamese Association; other years have included videos being produced by the students. We have also helped fund several protection initiatives including the purchase of drones to help monitor wildlife from the air and finishing out the anti-poaching village.
How do your students get involved on your trips in South Africa? What do they take away from their experience?
They simply apply through our study abroad and we interview them, as there is always higher demand than places. We specifically choose students from a broad set of majors and interests, as it is going to take a multifaceted, multi-disciplinary approach to solve the crisis. They are bright, keen, and eager! As noted above, they become advocates for this (and other) species and a number are going on to graduate school because of the trip.
How do you raise awareness locally about this global issue?
We host a rhino run every spring, which raises money and awareness and use social media a lot. I also give a lot of talks on the issue. I have also written OpEds and articles have been published in local magazines (like Fort Worth Monthly) and the LA Times.
How can people get involved?
We launched our new global website – www.planetrhino.com and that will show people how to get involved, both in terms of making gifts to support our work but also their time and voices!