There was a really wonderful article in the BBC a few days ago about a man’s attempt to save the African rhinoceros from extinction. As you may know from my recent YouTube video in which I give advice on IELTS Speaking skills, I love rhinos! Here, I have put together a lesson to help you improve your reading skills based upon this article.
The text below has been edited slightly to make it more suitable for learning. The questions are below the text and answers are at the bottom of the page.
The audacious plan to airlift 80 rhinos to Australia
By Jon Donnison BBC News, Sydney
A South African expatriate’s desire to protect rhinoceroses from poachers is driving an unusual plan to breed the giant animals down under.
It’s sometimes said that people look like their pets. But that’s not the case with Ray Dearlove. He’s a statuesque slab of fellow, built like a prop forward with the weathered features of somebody who’s spent most of his life under the sun in South Africa and Australia. When he speaks, you listen. Snapping around his ankles at his home in suburban Sydney is a somewhat yappy little terrier. They make an unlikely pair that pours water on the pet theory.
Yet “Rhino Ray” does bear some resemblance to the beast he loves more than any other. “I have a deep passion for rhinos,” the 67-year-old tells me. “The rhino is the closest thing you will ever see to the dinosaur. They’re incredible animals.”
Now Mr Dearlove wants to bring rhinos on the same long journey to Australia that he made three decades ago. He’s leading an ambitious project to airlift 80 white rhinoceroses from Southern Africa to Australia in order to protect the animals from poaching. “Some would say it’s far-fetched, just the idea of another dumb South African,” he admits with a smile. “But with rhinos we’re close to a tipping point right now. We need to start thinking laterally.”
Mr Dearlove’s love of the rhinoceros can be traced to his childhood. He was born and raised in the north-east of South Africa, close to the border with Mozambique. “The Kruger National Park was on our doorstep so most of our holidays as kids were spent there,” he says, referring to one of Africa’s biggest game reserves. “It was pretty wild at those times when we were young. I grew up loving animals.”
It’s estimated that poachers killed about 1,300 rhinos for their horns last year in Africa. The reason is that rhino horn is literally worth more than its weight in gold. It sells for about US$60,000 (£41,000) a kilo, sometimes more, with most of it ending up in China and Vietnam where it’s wrongly believed to have medicinal properties.
Mr Dearlove says there have been numerous attempts to slow down the poaching trade. “They’ve tried dehorning the rhinos but it didn’t work. The poachers would still shoot the animals just to dig out a couple of inches of the stump of the horn from their skulls,” he says. Conservationists have also tried injecting dye into the horns to devalue them, but with limited success. “The Australian Rhino Project is about spreading the risk,” Mr Dearlove says.
The plan is to airlift 80 white rhinos to Australia over the next four years, with the first batch of 20 to be brought over by the end of 2016. “They will go to an environment as close to the African climate as we can find and as close to the African vegetation as we can find,” he says. “They need to be in a secure environment where they can breed.”
Mr Dearlove is keeping the exact location close to his chest for now, but says his dream is to one day to have a smaller version of the Kruger National Park somewhere in Australia. The target is to increase the size of the herd from 80 rhinos to about 130 before eventually repatriating them to Africa, if and when the poaching situation improves.
But rhinos take time to breed. They have a gestation period of about 16 months and only have one calf at a time. Usually they will wait three to four years before having more offspring. “With such a high rate of poaching, it’s going to take time to catch up,” says Mr Dearlove.
And he acknowledges the project has been bureaucratically challenging. “We started this whole thing three years ago and I had no idea it was going to take this long,” he says. But he says the governments in both Australia and South Africa have been supportive.
“Australia’s main concern is bio-security. They take the pristine nature of the country very seriously,” he says, referring to Australia’s notoriously strict quarantine controls. Initially there was some concern about the animals potentially bringing in foot-and-mouth disease, but those fears have now been addressed.
“They don’t want a situation like they’ve had with rabbits, cane toads and camels,” he says, referring to species whose populations spiralled out of control after being introduced from overseas. With a raised eyebrow and a chuckle, Mr Dearlove admits he wouldn’t see it as a problem if rhinos were breeding like rabbits.
But could the poaching problem find its way to Australia? He says it’s possible but unlikely. “Nowhere is totally safe. But I do think Australia is safer than pretty much anywhere else,” he says. “Border security is a major focus for both state and federal governments. There is no poaching in Australia today, thank God, and there is no comparable poverty. I really believe that if one rhino got poached in this country all hell would break loose. The Australians would just find it unacceptable.”
So what of the logistics of getting them here? A white rhino weighs about 2500kg. “When we first started I thought you could just stick them in the hold of a Qantas jet,” he says. “But they’re too tall to fit through the doors of the hold.” Special cargo planes will need to be used for the 11,000km journey from Johannesburg to Sydney, at an estimated cost of about US$60,000 per rhino. But Mr Dearlove believes it’s worth it. “What price do you put on saving a species from extinction?” he asks.
- Match the section headings A-D with the titles from below.
___ Cruel Harvest
___ Beastly logistics
___ Safe haven
___ An extraordinary plan
- Understand idiomatic language from context. Find the following phrases in the text and try to find a definition. Make an example sentence using the phrase.
“pours water on” – definition: ___________________________________________________________
“tipping point” – definition: _____________________________________________________________
“spreading the risk” definition: ___________________________________________________________
“close to his chest” definition: ____________________________________________________________
“spiralled out of control” definition: _______________________________________________________
- Comprehension questions.
- What kind of pet does Ray have?
- When did Ray move to Australia?
- How many rhino were killed by hunters in Africa in 2015?
- How successful have previous attempts to save the rhinos been?
- How many rhinos will be in Australia before some are returned to Africa?
- What is the attitude of the two governments involved?
- What is the Australian government’s prime concern?
- How heavy is a rhinoceros?
- True, False, or Not Given
- Ray wants to bring rhinos to Australia to protect them from habitat destruction.
- He believes it’s time to use some creative thinking.
- He grew up inside Kruger National Park.
- Poachers kill rhinos for their meat and their horns.
- The majority of rhino horns are sent to China and Vietnam.
- It has been impossible to deter poachers so far.
- Kruger Park officials are helping establish the project in Australia.
- He has been working on the project for more than five years.
- The rhino will kill native Australian wildlife.
- Rhinos can be transported on regular cargo jets.
- Ray’s plan is audacious because it will be difficult to achieve. However, for him the risks outweigh the difficulties. List the potential upsides and the difficulties likely to be faced.
- Do you think his plan will succeed? Why or why not?
- Think of another endangered species. Describe the difficulties it faces such as poaching or habitat destruction, and suggest a plan for saving it. Don’t worry about it being too audacious.
1: B D C A
2. pours water on – the phrase comes from pouring water on a fire. We talk about “pouring water on” an idea or theory in order to extinguish it.
Example: Recent evidence has poured water on the scientists’ theory.
tipping point – the point after which there is no return. Think of a man leaning over a cliff. At a certain point he cannot maintain his balance and will fall.
Example: We’re nearing tipping point in the battle against climate change.
spreading the risk – rather than making one risk, we take multiple risks to lessen the chance of loss.
Example: Smart investors know that they need to spread the risk across various stocks.
close to his chest – this comes from playing cards. A player would hold his cards to his chest to stop other players from seeing them. We still use it to mean being quiet or secretive about something.
Example: The politician was asked a question but he kept his cards close to his chest.
spiralled out of control – think of a plane spiralling downwards… it’s not a good sign. When it starts to spiral, it doesn’t usually recover.
Example: The company’s financials spiralled out of control as investors bailed on them.
3. a) terrier (a kind of dog)
b) 30 yrs ago
4. a) F – to protect them from poaching
c) F – he grew up near the park
d) F – just the horn
h) F – for 3 yrs
j) F – they need special planes