Park Rangers Go Naked to Protect Rhinos

These wildlife officers stripped for a calendar to raise money to save the endangered animal.

(Photo: Josie Borain)

Nov 13, 2014· 2 MIN READ
John R. Platt covers the environment, wildlife, and technology and for TakePart, Scientific American, Audubon, and other publications.

A dozen park rangers from South Africa and Botswana who already devote their lives to protecting their countries’ wildlife have gone one step further: They have taken off their clothes to pose for a calendar to help save the rhinoceros from poachers.

The “Rangers for Rhinos” calendar, published by a new company called Natural Causes to benefit the Game Rangers Association of Africa and conservation group Resource Africa, has already sold out its first two printings of 3,500 copies and is now shipping its third.

The calendar is the brainchild of Nicola Monro, who was inspired by the movie Calendar Girls, in which several women from Yorkshire pose nude to benefit leukemia research. A friend of hers produced a similar calendar with the Warwick University rowing club to fight homophobia. Monro decided a similar calendar could do a lot to benefit rhinos.

“Rhinos are a good cause, and one that requires a lot of very out-of-the-box solutions and fund-raising ideas to keep the public engaged,” she said.

So far this year, 996 rhinos have been killed by poachers in South Africa, just a few less than last year’s record of 1,004.

Monro enlisted South African supermodel turned fashion photographer Josie Borain to shoot the calendar. Assisted by the Game Rangers Association of Africa, the duo approached rangers from parks and private reserves around the two countries, many of whom had already made sacrifices in their personal lives to protect rhinos and other wildlife.

(Photos: Josie Borain)

“I have chosen to work for nature and give up the competition for jobs in the cities,” said “Mr. June,” Sibu Nziwe, who lives in Soweta and works as a field guide at Askari Game Lodge. “I have sacrificed my social life with family and friends in the city for a greater cause.”

Like a lot of the other models, he said he felt embarrassed and awkward before the calendar shoot but ultimately found it to be a good experience.

Monro said the calendar serves to support both the rhinos and the rangers who protect them.

“They did not sign on to become soldiers; they wanted to be conservationists,” she said.

The dramatic rise in poaching over the past five years has turned rangers into combatants, she said, a situation that all too often costs them everything. “These rangers are dying, are being ravaged by this war, and they do not earn a lot of money,” Monro said. “They have families. As much as I want to raise awareness about the rhino, I also want the public to know who these people are.”

There is an ironic element to the rangers posing nude: Many rangers around the world are essentially naked in the face of overwhelming odds. “It’s true that many, perhaps most, rangers are ill-equipped and underpaid,” said Julian Sturgeon, acting chief executive of Resource Africa. “We owe them a huge debt. Without rangers, naked or otherwise, our protected areas throughout the world would not survive in the long term.”

January model J.J. van Altena, who owns a ranching service company called Global Supplies in Johannesburg, said he hopes the calendar will raise awareness of rangers not just in Africa but around the world.

“As a professional member of the Game Rangers Association of Africa, I saw this calendar initiative as another way I could contribute to a larger cause, and hopefully by doing so raise much-needed funds for various conservation efforts that are in desperate need for equipment and other much-needed supplies,” he said.

Meanwhile, Nziwe said he hopes the calendar can also make a difference for the animals in his charge. “The rhinos were here first, not us,” he said. “Leave them alone and give them their space.”