Behind Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Sabah, Malaysia, I wandered down to the last river crossing we’d made before the software engineers had got to work on a cellphone tower. A flash flood of 75-odd cm was in full force, carrying tree trunks and other debris down the channel with power. We weren’t going to get out of the forest, I was sure. And young Julia agreed, a worker at Borneo Rhino Alliance, who was also watching the silt-laden torrent passing.
When she told me the government had an enclosure very close by with 3 rare rhino being guarded in it, I instantly wanted to see them. I wanted to take video footage to share on social media, explaining the plight of these giant herbivores which – if not rescued from their perilous position very fast, may become extinct within a matter of years. And I was prepared to do all this free of charge.
The on-site manager listened and then blurted out a standard “money and pride before conservation”-style excuse. He told me I may not film without buying a permit which would necessitate that I agree to be bound by terms such as not saying anything negative about the very companies whose oil palm enterprises are reducing habitat for the rhino and thereby pushing the species toward extinction! I tried to explain that it’s 5 to midnight for many species and there’s no time for political / ego nonsense when it comes to preventing the extinction of species. I said it’s vital that the world knows how much of nature is in deep peril because of the lives we choose to lead. But the answer I got remained the same: I had to follow a carefully orchestrated bureaucratic process centred on money rather than the plight of the species in the enclosure.