Peter Milton, standing up for rhino against poachers in South Africa. Exclusive interview with founder of SPOTS.
With rhino poaching on the rise, these majestic creatures need all the support they can get. “Conservation is not a well-paid career, and many have fallen by the wayside due to financial constraints,” says Peter Milton, founder of Strategic Protection of Threatened Species, or SPOTS. Rhino poaching has increased 5,000% since 2007 — and that is a scary number. Peter has made it his mission to stand up for rhino and change these catastrophic facts.
Early Life and Founding of SPOTS
“I was born in the Kalahari,” Peter says. “My parents were both nature and animals lovers, [and] my father had me spending much time with wildlife and conservation-focused people such as Professor J.[L.]B. Smith, Dr. Neil Rickert, and many others. … After involving myself in a number of conservation efforts, I decided to form my own conservation company, and Strategic Protection of Threatened Species (SPOTS) was born. … I now live my life where each day allows me to make a difference to that which I hold so dear, and [it] is a true privilege.”
Why the Rhino?
“SPOTS was formed as a broad-based conservation company, [but] the huge escalation in rhino poaching over the past years has resulted in us now spending around 70% of our time and effort on rhino conservation and protection. I remember clearly hearing the plaintive and heart-wrenching call of a rhino calf calling for its poached mother and trying to get her to raise herself [up]. … At that moment I swore to myself and to that calf that I will do everything that I can to wipe out the scourge of poaching. … [The rhino] is an iconic species, and if we lose it, we will lose many other[s].”
How Do We Save Rhino?
“There is … no one single thing we can do to stop poaching. It needs a multifaceted strategy and approach. First and foremost, we need worldwide exposure on the true scale of the problem…. We need international pressure on the South African, Chinese, [and] Vietnamese governments and the governments of other countries [that] are illegally trading in animal parts to make concerted efforts to halt such trade.”
Right now Peter’s team is using UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) to deter poachers. One “Air Ranger,” as Peter has named the UAV he and his team built, can do the work of 40 human rangers. However, even though the Air Rangers are doing well and making an impact, more are needed before they can maximize their effectiveness.
In less than 10 years, all rhino could be extinct. Can you imagine growing up in a world without rhino? The Western Black rhino is already extinct, and if the rest of the subspecies follow it, other species that interact with the rhino could become extinct as well. It’s not just the rhino we’re saving — it’s all the African animals.
Says Peter, “SPOTS is currently spending most of their time on the ground offering their anti-poaching operational skills to private reserves in the Waterberg area [of South Africa]. … A typical anti-poaching operation is around five to seven days in duration.”
Peter and his team aren’t giving up on rhino anytime soon, and we can all be grateful for that. In addition to saving rhino, Peter is also working on a book called Wildlife Ranger. His book will detail his inspiring story and his quest to save rhino…and you can get a sneak peek of it here on Nikela’s blog. Be sure to check back soon for snippets and more stories from fascinating wildlife hero Peter Milton.
Written by Nikela Volunteer Laura Benson Hadley