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South African exchange student to host black rhino anti-poaching event Saturday

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WATERTOWN — They’re shot, shaved and removed of their tusks.

The poaching of black rhinoceroses in South Africa has prompted exchange student Tenne’h Okafor to educate the north country community on how it can help her passion for saving one of her home country’s most treasured animals.

“Back home, with a lot of nature, like the rhinos, we try to conserve what God has given us and what nature is,” she said. “Poachers come during the night, and they got their high-tech rifles to kill the rhinos and take off horns for that they need. It’s really sad.”

Now, she’s requesting the community’s help.

From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Curled Salon, 165 Mechanic St., if two people come in together and each purchases a hair service, they will receive a free nail service. Ms. Okafor said 40 percent of proceeds will go to Project Rhino KZN, a nonprofit dedicated to saving and revitalizing the black rhino population.

She said the fundraiser, and a related public-speaking educational series she completed in her current senior year at host school Watertown High, are part of a community service project required under her scholarship to study abroad in America.

She also is working through a required 40 hours of volunteer service throughout her host community of Watertown. She is staying with host parents Raymond E. and Marie S. Rainbolt.

Of all the community projects she said she could have done, she chose to create an anti-rhino poaching awareness and fundraising event because just outside of her small hometown of Pietermaritzburg, in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal, conservation efforts by organizations such as Project Rhino KZN are slowly building up the black rhino population.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, more commonly known in the United States as the World Wildlife Fund, there were hundreds of thousands of black rhinos in South Africa. After the poaching crisis in the 1970s and 1980s, that population dwindled to about 2,500 in the early 1990s. The WWF estimated nearly 4,000 black rhinos survive in the wild today, and the species remains critically endangered on the World Conservation Union’s Red List.

Most black rhinos that are left are protected in reserves.

One of the purposes of poaching that species, according to the WWF, is that powdered rhino horn is used in some Asian traditional medicines, as it is “believed to be a mild fever reducer.”

During her time in the north country, Ms. Okafor has experienced many “firsts.” Before organizing her first anti-poaching awareness event/fundraiser, she also saw snow for the first time. While she said she is unsure how she feels about winter weather, she said she has warmed up to the community.

The rural aspects of Northern New York somewhat remind her of the rural landscape just outside of her hometown, she said. But instead of a large deer population running across the roads here, she said, you’re more likely to see goats and stray dogs in Pietermaritzburg.

She said she chose a salon-based event because many of her new friends here are preparing for the prom.

For more information about the event, call the salon at 788-1805. For more information on Project Rhino KZN, visit www.projectrhinokzn.org.

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