Three of the world's best surfers, 11-time ASP World Champion Kelly Slater (USA), two-time J-Bay Open event winner Jordy Smith (ZAF), and 1989 ASP World Champion Martin Potter, visited the Chipembere Rhino Foundation to help raise awareness about the conservation of South Africa's rhinos and to learn more about the threat of poaching.
â€œWe met some people from the Chipembere Rhino Foundation to learn about the plight of the rhinos,â€ said Slater. â€œI was astounded by the number of the rhinos that are killed each year. There's only about 25,000 rhinos left in the world and last year alone over 1,000 were killed in South Africa.
"I didn't know all this so coming here today was a real eye-opener for me. It was great to see some rhinos and learn more about the conservation efforts.â€
â€œThe rhinos are so mellow, they're gentle giants and that makes it so unbelievable what people do to them,â€ said Smith. â€œWe were educated on what's actually going on and it was mind-blowing. These rhinos are the most amazing creatures that I've ever seen -- so big, but so humble. To see what's happening to them is a huge tragedy. A huge thank you to everyone that was involved and I'm definitely going to spread the word.â€
The trio met with Dr. William Fowlds who explained the work of Chipembere Rhino Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection and conservation of South Africa's rhinos. The Foundation's main focus is to provide anti-poaching units with the right equipment and training to help them better protect the species and raise awareness.
â€œThey are such an iconic animal and their value to us is indescribable,â€ said Fowlds. â€œThe support and awareness that we're getting through the ASP, Kelly, and Jordy is vital because this is a global problem.
"We are not going to solve the crisis from within South Africa," he said. "The whole global community has to get behind this and the ASP is helping by sharing the reality of what happens. If we don't get that message out we won't ever be able to stop what's happening.â€
South Africa is home to 73 percent of the world's rhino population. According to the latest figures, more than 500 rhino have been poached in South Africa so far this year. Despite the efforts to combat poaching, the number of rhinos killed continues to rise each year. Rhinos are poached primarily for their horns, which are falsely believed to have healing and medicinal properties. One of the challenges conservationists face is to educate the public and to stem the demand for rhino products.
â€œI knew there was poaching but I didn't know to what extent,â€ said Potter. â€œThey're losing three rhinos every day. That's more than are being born, which is staggering. What is more staggering is the way it's happening. It's very emotional to hear about because it's so brutal. This is one problem we can fix by spreading the word and educating the younger generation.â€
ASP title sponsor Samsung Electronics is also involved in the fight against rhino poaching. Samsung has been working with the team at Rhino DNA Index System (RhODIS) to develop an app that will build the DNA database. The database helps rangers and veterinarians gather information about the rhinos while working in the field, and to convict poachers by linking horns to crime scenes.
ASP dedicated a segment to the Chipembere Foundation on Tuesday's Dawn Patrol, the J-Bay Open's daily morning show. The issue will also be featured in the hour-long J-Bay Open highlights show, which airs on ABC in the USA and other networks around the world. ASP and its surfers are also raising awareness about rhino poaching across social media.