In the final days of 2023, a tip-off to the South African Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation resulted in a 16-hour raid on Derek Lewitton’s South African ranch. Twenty-six rhino carcasses were located during the raid and it was suggested by officers that there could be more, “From the helicopter the place looked like a slaughterhouse,” Provincial Commissioner of Police Major General Jan Scheepers told ABC News when describing the scene. “Everywhere you looked, rhinos were lying there dead”.

South African authorities must be informed about the death of a rhino, even if it dies of natural causes. Rhino horn was also found at the property without the necessary government documentation.

Lewitton’s website, Black Rock Rhino Conservation, says, that after working for several years for McKinsey and Company, Derek now owns and operates a rhino reserve. As the website explains, “the [Lewitton] family is responsible for hundreds of rhino”, continuing, “Derek is the author of several papers redefining the options for legal trade in rhino horn and has served in a voluntary capacity as the legal advisor and CITES expert for the IWMC Wildlife Conservation Trust – an NGO founded by two former Secretaries General of CITES”. Let’s hope most of the “hundreds of rhino” are still alive and well at the Lewitton ranch.

This tragedy is still unfolding, and what happened and why can only be speculation at this point. Yet it is interesting that this has occurred just months after the sale of John Hume’s rhino herd to African Parks. In April 2023, John Hume launched an auction to sell off his 2,000 rhinos, estimated to be somewhere between 13% to 15% of the world’s white rhino population. With no interested buyers, the herd was eventually sold to African Parks in September 2023. The great news is that these rhinos are now earmarked for a rewilding program, with translocation to multiple well-managed protected areas across continental Africa over the coming decade. While this won’t be an easy task, these rhinos are no longer available to the pro-trade lobby. Though it must be remembered that the Hume family and associates still have the stockpiled horn they have collected for over a decade.

The loss of 2,000 rhinos from the pro-trade pool is significant. While the pro-trade groups assessment of how they could manage supply and demand has always been questionable, as outlined in 2016 article, Smart Trade – NO, Foolish Assumptions – YES, these already suspect figures of available supply from horn harvesting of privately owned rhinos did factor in Hume’s rhino herd. So, the single largest rhino herd in the pro-trade agenda has now been removed from any future pro-trade proposals.

In short, their figures have never stacked up and now they have lost 13% to 15% of the world’s white rhino population to their debatable calculations. Does this mean the pro-trade group have lost their already questionable leverage to lobby for a legal international trade?

A trip to South Africa, in early 2015, to meet with people from both sides of the rhino trade debate, made it clear that the ‘desire to supply’ is a significant issue in driving biodiversity loss.

Nature Needs More’s 2016 The Animals Campaign

In the same way that demand reduction campaigns have evolved over the years, there is a similar need for campaigns challenging the desire to supply.  

To anyone who has been following Breaking The Brand’s (now Nature Needs More’s) work it comes as no surprise that we believe the pro-trade proposals contain holes big enough to drive a Mack truck through. Their lack of commercial sophistication on the pro-trade issue is once again confirmed on Derek Lewitton’s Black rock Rhino Conservation’s website, where our campaigns have been singled out. We have always taken the opprobrium from pro-trade group as a badge of pride! So let’s see what Derek’s website says:

Firstly, apparently, because the rhino horn used in one of our campaign images has a flat base, they say that it comes from a farmed rhino. The diatribe goes on to say, “Why do their’ demand reduction’ ads need to reduce demand for ‘farmed horn’ if consumers don’t want it?”.  This statement alone shows the desperation of the pro-trade agenda.

The rhino horn used in the advert was loaned to us for the day the images were taken. It is a historic specimen owned by an Australian Zoo. So, no we didn’t use horn from a farmed rhino in the image.

Their next piece of disinformation is their statement that our adverts were published in English. It isn’t hard to find the facts about our campaigns in our Breaking The Brand blogs and annual reports, if you are willing to do the most minimal amount of research.

Vietnamese language adverts were published in Vietnamese language magazines (Saigon Business Weekend, Investment Bridge, Forbes Vietnam, Golf & Life) and English adverts in English language magazine Vietnam Investment Review; both Vietnamese and English adverts were printed in Heritage Magazine, the in-flight magazine of Vietnam Airlines.

But the pro-trade proponents have never let the facts get in the way of their agenda. 

This level of disinformation is a clear indication of their desire to supply and, as a result, their desperation to undermine a strategy, such as good quality demand reduction campaigns, which could obstruct their objective.  

Interestingly, Derek’s uses his employment history at McKinsey & Company to try to push his credibility. But let’s remember that McKinsey already has paid out more than US$640 million to resolve suits claiming the company fuelled the opioid epidemic by advising drug makers like Purdue how to sell more painkillers. No one knows the scale of excess deaths associated with the opioid crisis or if, now the opioid Pandora’s box has been opened – “tattooed on the world” – if the regulators will ever dismantle it? This together with the October 2023 publication, When McKinsey Comes to Town, outlining how the firm has accrued an inordinate amount of influence chasing profits at the expense of moral principle, will hopefully mean that the days of using McKinsey to boost one’s credibility will soon be over.

One final comment, on Derek’s Black Rock Rhino Conservation website is that it states horn from a farmed rhino is ‘ethical’ horn. As the South African case unfolds in the coming weeks and months, it is scheduled to be heard at the Namakgale Magistrates’ Court on 7th March, we will see if he has the right to lecture on business ‘ethics’.