A student writer's take on disappearing rhinos

October 5, 2017
Marissa Callender
Marissa Callender's LEEP project with Africa Media allowed her to explore environmental journalism and travel writing.

Elephants, sharks, and gibbons, oh my! Marissa Callender ’18 encountered them all during an environmental journalism and travel writing internship in Mossel Bay, South Africa – a coastal town about 240 miles east of Cape Town.

Marissa Callender interacted with amazing wildlife, like the elephant she's standing with here, during her internship with Africa Media.Marissa Callender interacted with amazing wildlife during her internship with Africa Media. Working for Africa Media, Callender researched, wrote, photographed and pitched stories about issues facing communities and wildlife in the region as a LEEP project. She chronicled her experience in a blog called “Callender’s Discovery.”

“As I’m pursuing a career as an environmental journalist, it was important to obtain a holistic understanding of current environmental concerns both within and outside the United States,” she says.

Callender’s topics included the monogamous love lives of gibbons at Monkeyland, a primate sanctuary in Western Cape, South Africa, and a humpback whale-watching expedition in the Indian Ocean.

In a long post, Callender wrote about rhinoceros poaching, which remains a problem in the country despite efforts by conservation groups to combat it. TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network, reports 1,054 rhinos were killed in 2016 by poachers seeking horns.

Read more about Marissa Callender's experience as an undergraduate student at Clark.

Because of high demand for horns, which some cultures believe to have medicinal properties, some rhino owners and reserves have taken to de-horning their animals – sedating and removing a horn without harming the animal – as a way to thwart poachers. 

Callender explains the issue in a blog post titled, “A Moonlit Thread.”  Here, an excerpt from that blog:

"From high tides to labor, for many of us, a full moon signals the ending of a cycle and the beginning of another. The lunar effect of a full moon is believed to be very powerful and have several effects on the functioning of the world. For many reserves around South Africa, however, the full moon presents an opportunity for poachers to strike. When the whole disc is illuminated, there is ample natural light available to increase the visibility of the rhino. With 80 percent of the rhino population living within the counties of Kenya, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe and the numbers rapidly decreasing, it is important to discuss the conservation perspectives and government policies. By doing so, we may realistically understand the possibilities that remain for the existence of this species.

"During an interview with Les Slabbert of Mount Camdeboo Game Reserve, he took me to the death site of a poaching attack. He spoke of the effect of the recent full moon and the increased security measures that had to be undertaken. On our arrival, a putrid smell engulfed the area. The mother and her 3-year-old calf lay lifeless on either side of a Karoo Thorn tree. He begins to discuss the corpse and details, which add to the gravity of the situation. The closer the rhino gets, the grimier the decay becomes. Strikingly, stark white bones representing rib cages and other remains lie scattered. This poignant portrait showcased the aftermath of a crime. He begins to discuss the corpse and details, which add to the gravity of the situation..."