Simon Jones is the founder and CEO of Helping Rhinos, a charity he established in 2012. Simon’s love for animals began at a very young age. His home in the south of England was often referred to as the ‘local zoo’ as he had a whole range of pets that included dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, and even a tortoise to name a few. Simon also rode horses as a child and would often spend early childhood family holidays on working farms looking after the cattle and pigs.
It takes a lot of work and dedication to run a charity like Helping Rhinos. A typical day for Simon would start at around 6:30am with checking the emails that have been received overnight (with an international charity there is no off time!). Once the emails have been reviewed each day can be very different. Some days will be focused on raising funds to help support Helping Rhinos’ work in the field and others will be more focused around the actual work on the ground and talking to the teams across Africa. Before Covid-19 travel restrictions were imposed Simon would spend at least one or two days a week in face to face meetings with supporters and sponsors. Typically, his day ends anywhere between 7pm and 10pm with more email work.
The goal of Helping Rhinos is to provide secure and sustainable environments for all species of rhinos to thrive for generations to come.
In the field, Helping Rhinos will establish secure rhino strongholds through the creation of innovative protection strategies, sustainable land management operations that ensure a rich, biodiverse ecosystem and inspiring local communities to proactively engage in rhino conservation.
Around the world Helping Rhinos will ensure sustainable long term rhino conservation by developing a community of interested and engaged people and donors through international education programmes. Furthermore, to develop an innovative, entrepreneurial approach to funding rhino conservation.
Simon knows in order for rhinos to have a chance at long term survival it is vital for the local African communities to realize the importance of saving the species. Without the cooperation of the local population, it would be impossible to help rhinos.
Simon and his team balance the need to protect the land for wildlife and to sustain a human population. They educate local communities about the benefits of keeping land for wildlife by offering meaningful incentives to protect wildlife and help eliminate poaching. For example, the communities surrounding Ol Pejeta Conservancy, one of Helping Rhinos field projects, benefits from the conservancy building new schools, medical dispensaries and the provision of business management skills training. This is a huge incentive for these communities to work closely with the conservancy and to help protect and keep safe their wildlife.
They also fund anti-poaching units. This is key to protecting rhinos. Rangers need to be trained and provided with the best technology to keep themselves and the animals they protect safe. This all takes money.
Helping Rhinos also knows it is important to work with Governments at all levels to encourage them to implement enforceable legislation and effective penalties to deter poachers from killing rhinos. Simon and his group also lobby for the protection of habitat.
One of the hardest parts of running an NGO such as Helping Rhinos is the remoteness of the organisation to the rhinos on the ground. Simon and his whole team have a huge passion to protect rhinso in their natural habitat, but it can be tough when times are busy and stressful and you are half a world away from the animals and the nature you are trying to protect.
That is why when Simon is in the field these are the most memorable times for him. Simon says there are too many memorable occasions to pick just one, but a few that stand out are the first time he saw rhino poaching survivor Thandi after her attack. Simon had seen Thandi a few years before the attack (and before she even had a name), but to see her just a few months after her face had been hacked off, looking strong was very emotional. Similarly, spending time with Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, just weeks before his passing due to age related conditions was also very emotional. Saying goodbye to Sudan, knowing he wouldn’t ever see him again was very tough. And finally, seeing the strength of character of the rhino orphans, who have survived the loss of their mothers, often having witnessed their brutal slaughter at the hands of poachers, really does give Simon huge inspiration and motivation to keep fighting every day for these majestic animals.
The COVID-19 pandemic is having a devastating impact on conservation. The sector relies largely on income from nature-based tourism, which was abruptly turned off overnight and is unlikely to recover until well into 2021.
One upside however is that the poaching of species like rhinos actually significantly reduced during the lockdown period. With international borders closed and domestic travel a lot more difficult to undertake without being noticed, the risk of being left with an illegally procured rhino horn was too big a risk. However, Simon says that the rhino conservation world is bracing itself for a poaching spike now the borders have opened again. Managing this spike if it does materialize will be a bigger challenge than ever with a lack of available resources that’s due to the pandemic.
September 22nd each year is World Rhino Day, but for Simon and his team, every day is rhino day. Every day, they do what they can to help save these beautiful animals. If you would like to learn more about Helping Rhinos, check out their website. There are many ways to get involved, including donating, ‘adopting’ a rhino, running your own fundraising campaign, trying out one of the many fun rhino activities they have, such as colouring sheets, info sheets, learning to draw a rhino!
I personally am so excited to be collaborating with Helping Rhinos. I will be donating 10% of all royalties earned from my picture book, A Family For Faru, to this wonderful group. Please check out their shop. They have so many amazing items for sale, including links to purchase books that support rhino conservation like A Family For Faru.