Kevin Pietersen: Rhino Extinction Isn’t Going To Happen, Not On My Clock
Kevin Pietersen swipes his finger across the screen of an iPad to land on an image that triggers an instant response. "What a tit," he tells LADbible. "I never want to remember that hairstyle, those sunglasses or Freddie."
The former England cricketer has just seen the picture of himself holding his arms aloft, blonde streak running through the centre of his black mop, sunglasses shielding his bleary eyes, shirt untucked, leaning on former teammate Andrew 'Freddie' Flintoff - who looks like he's struggling to stay awake after drinking himself into a stupor as the team celebrated at Downing Street following their 2005 Ashes win.
But as we wrap up filming Back In Timeline, where celebrities look back on their social media posts, there's a more serious topic that Kevin wants to address. He pulls up a seat and tells LAD all about Sorai (save our Rhino's in Africa and India) a conservation project fighting for the preservation and protection of rhinos in Africa and India.
LB: When did you first get involved with Sorai?
KP: In 2013, I got invited out on a rhino tagging and relocation experience and being on the conveyor belt of sport, you don't get time to get out and understand what's going on in the real world. This experience opened me up to the issues facing the rhino and how they're being brutally attacked and butchered all day, every day just for their rhino horn.
LB: Why is rhino horn so valuable?
KP: People believe it cures cancer. They believe that it cures a hangover. It's the most expensive commodity on the black market... more expensive than cocaine, gold, platinum, you name it... so it's shown as a symbol of wealth. Rhino horn is worth $65,000-$85,000 per kilogram on the black market and each horn weighs 5-6kgs. It's just a moment in my time where I was shown the brutality of what was happening and it just changed my whole life. I just thought that with the profile that I had, the friends that I had, I could make a difference.
LB: What's the worst thing that you've seen?
KP: I've seen dead rhino in front of me. The worst thing is not the sight of what I've seen, it's the smell of a dead rhino, the smell of death and that is something that'll just always be with you. It's horrendous. I spend a lot of time in the rhino orphanage where a lot of them have had their mums killed and they're the most beautiful, precious animals. And to smell death is what gives me that drive and ambition to make sure I do something about it.
LB: How do the poachers get the horn off the rhino?
KP: They shoot them and then run up to the animal and try and break its back or cut its spine. And then they'll hit it in the Achilles so that it can't move or run. The bullet causes a concussion and then, while the animal is alive, they're ripping it apart and chopping its face off. It's brutal. You just have to have a look at some of the stuff that I've posted on Instagram and how graphic they are. It's truly heartbreaking to see such a beautiful, majestic, inquisitive animal going through that.
LB: Have you ever come face-to-face with a poacher?
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KP: My interest really isn't in the poaching syndicates or the poachers. My interest is in just protecting the animals and getting the technology in place to make sure that there's no conflict because those people are desperate. The poachers are desperate and that's why they're in the bush and they're being led by greed, which is a personal trait that every single one of us has to a certain degree. They're trying to feed their families, so why should I want to see conflict? I don't want to see conflict, my aim is to protect everybody and the animals.
LB: How have you found empathy for the people you are trying to stop?
KP: I had anger for them before I went out and shot my National Geographic documentary and before I shot my BBC podcast. I've interviewed a lot of people that are desperate. They're in riverbeds washing their clothes and walking five kilometres to get water. The government doesn't do enough in South Africa. How the people aren't being looked after? It gives me energy and drive to try and create a way in which they can somehow benefit through an education fund that I've set up and through technology that protects the animals.
LB: Can you tell us a bit more about this technology?
KP: Thermal imaging cameras that fly at an altitude where they can monitor poachers and help the authorities bring them to justice. It costs around $40,000 a month to use this technology and getting that amount of money out of people is difficult, but I'm fully committed and dedicated to making a difference. If you get 12 businesses to adopt the system throughout the year, you don't need to get one person funding it. One person can fund it if they want, that would be great, but $40,000 is nothing to some businesses. Get a business to commit to that sort of number on an annual basis for one month of the year and we'll save the rhino.
LB: If poaching continues at its current rate, when will the rhinos be extinct?
KP: By 2025. The clock is certainly ticking. That's only in six years. But that's not going to happen, not on my clock. I won't let it. We're definitely making progress. I saw the latest statistics a few months ago and the number of deaths has dropped from three-a-day to two-a-day, which is huge, but two is too many. Why should any rhino be being killed? It's shocking.
LB: When you tell people about the brutal nature of poaching, what kind of reaction do you usually get?
KP: Their reaction is startling and that's why I've set up an opportunity called the Legacy Experience in South Africa where I take wealthy individuals to go and see, feel, hear, watch and understand the African bush. I think I've raised more than £10million in the last year just from these guys who feel the emotion of what I went through in 2013. When you leave the bush you're dedicated to conservation, knowing and seeing what those animals are going through.
LB: How can the average person sitting at home help?
KP: You can donate to Care For Wild Rhino Sanctuary: the world's biggest shelter for orphaned rhinoceroses who have lost the parents during brutal attacks. I've seen so many videos of rhinos trying to defend their mum, even though she's dead, and rangers have to come in and dart the animal. They fly it off to Petronel Nieuwoudt, founder of Care For Wild. She has her own army defending all of her rhinos. She does the most amazing work in rehabilitating and looking after these animals. So, donate to Care For Wild or volunteer and go help her.
LB: Can you just tell us a little bit about your podcast?
KP: It's called Beast Of Man on BBC Sounds, BBC 5 Live and iTunes and it's very hard-hitting. It's about the absolute reality of what's happening out in Africa. It will help you understand the lengths people go to in order to kill these animals. But on the flip side there are amazing people that are trying to help these animals. I'm trying to stop the nonsense that's happening, but also show how beautiful Africa is. We interviewed (Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) Michael Gove and I cannot for the life of me understand why he still hasn't banned the import of trophies. I quiz him on that. We interview a trophy-hunter who says that he wakes up every morning with a drive to kill an animal. I still don't get it, but it's fascinating.