Deol & Mzimba became legendary in India & South Africa, respectively
SIROHI, Rajasthan, India; ACORNHOEK, Mpumalanga, South Africa––Amit Deol, 46, spent most of his short life helping camels in the Thar desert of Rajasthan state, India.
Anton Mzimba, either 42 or 49 according to various sources, spent his life protecting rhinos from poachers on the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, just west of Kruger National Park, South Africa.
Hepatitis & assassination
Deol died on July 23, 2022 from complications of hepatitis. Mzimba was assassinated in his home on July 26, 2022.
Both lived almost all of their lives within a day’s drive or less from where they were born and met their demise.
The two men never met, yet had much in common, each becoming legendary for mostly self-taught expertise in local animals and ecology.
Headed People for Animals Sirohi
Deol earned a master’s degree in economics, but his primary occupation from graduation to the end of his life was directing the People for Animals chapter in Sirohi, Rajasthan, a local affiliate of the national People for Animals organization incorporated in 1992 by politician, author, and activist Maneka Gandhi.
The Sirohi chapter of People for Animals, begun by Deol in 1998, was from the beginning involved in helping camels, commonly used in the region to pull carts.
“From setting up India’s first and largest camel conservation center to caring for cattle, goats, monkeys, and dogs alike,” recalled fellow activist Divya Tiwari in a Facebook tribute, “from arranging for permanent water facilities for birds and animals in the scalding heat of Rajasthan to regular health camps for animals in villages to caring for the school-going children, he managed it all with enthusiasm and joy!”
Walked the extra mile for camels
Mourned another fellow activist, M.S. Solanki, “Camel Man of India, modern messiah of camels Amit is no more among us. He considered camels and other animals family members, always ready to serve injured animals.”
Another longtime Indian animal advocate, R.B. Chaudhary, was only one among many others who remembered and lauded Deol as “The founder of the first camel rescue and conservation center in India.”
Whether Deol was actually the founder of “the first camel rescue and conservation center” appears to be a question of definitions. Deol was, however, the dedicated worker who kept the Sirohi camel rescue center going and growing for approximately 20 years.
Help In Suffering Camel Project
The People for Animals camel rescue center in Sirohi appears to have originated in 2001 in assistance to the Help In Suffering Camel Project, initiated 250 miles to the northwest in Jaipur by Christine Townend, the Australian managing secretary of Help In Suffering from 1990 to 2007. Townend both earlier and later spoke out on behalf of feral camels in the Australian Outback.
The Help In Suffering Camel Project initially operated “camel camps” and mobile clinics, staffed by veterinarian Devi Shankar Rajoria, working at first with help from British volunteer veterinarians Richard and Emma Morris.
Sirohi proved to be an especially good location for “camel camps,” situated about halfway from Jaipur to Ahmedabad, the Rajasthan capital city, at the intersection with the road to Udaipur, the next biggest city in the region.
“Camel camps” evolved into ongoing project
By 2002 the Sirohi “camel camps,” hosted by People for Animals, had already become a semi-permanent project.
According to media reports published at the time, the first formally designated Camel Rescue Center opened at Bassi, on the Agra Road, in 2011, funded by the French organization Animaux Secours, the Swiss-based ELSU Foundation and Marchig Trust, and the Carpenter Trust of Great Britain, under the direction of veterinarian, Pradeep Singhal.
Within three years the Bassi facility had provided more than 37,350 treatments to 15,500 individual camels, and had outfitted 11,000 camel carts with reflectors to make them more visible to drivers at night.
The Sirohi location may, however, have become the first to host a resident population of rescued camels, expanding gradually to more than 400.
Future of camel center in question
The future of the People for Animals camel center at Sirohi may be in question following Deol’s death. Freelance reporter Rosanna Thomas reported for NewsClick on February 8, 2022 that the center “is plagued by a lack of funds and doctors,” with “a veterinarian who offers only online consultation,” and a chronic fodder shortage.
The camel center “has access to 34 square kilometers of surrounding forests for grazing the animals in an arrangement with the state forest department,” Thomas wrote, but “it is not possible to let them out with only eight staff members. The staff have a 9 :00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. work day,” Thomas explained, unlike the nomadic Raika and Rebari herders of the region, who are with their camels 24 hours a day.
Despite the difficulties at the Sirohi center, courts all over India send camels there after impoundment in cruelty cases.
Varanasi chief judicial magistrate Nitesh Kumar Sinha, for example, on July 8, 2022 ordered that 16 impounded camels be sent to the Sirohi center, 800 miles west of Varanasi.
Mzimba & wife shot at home
“Police have launched a manhunt for three suspects who allegedly shot dead well-known field ranger Anton Mzimba and critically injured his wife at their home in Edinburgh Trust near Bushbuckridge in Mpumalanga,” reported Nokwanda Ncwane for The South African.
“According to police, three armed men entered the house of the couple around 7:00 p.m., where they pretended to be asking for water.
“As their child was busy assisting them, it is said that the men abruptly approached Anton Mzimba, who was busy in his car, and allegedly shot him several times.
“It is further alleged,” Ncwane continued, “that his wife screamed after witnessing what had just happened to her husband. Then she was shot in the stomach by the suspects.
“The three suspects are said to have then fled the scene in a white VW Polo without taking anything in the house.”
Resembled murder of Pro Hunt Africa president
The shooting in several respects resembled the June 8, 2022 ambush murder of Riaan Naude, 55, president of Pro Hunt Africa, whose headquarters in Phalaborwa was about 30 miles straight north.
“Killed for doing his job”
Opined University of the Western Cape professor Eugene Moll, “Anton Mzimba was an acknowledged rhino hero and acclaimed ranger in the front-line of anti-poaching. He was ruthlessly killed for doing his job.
“But I am not going to extoll his professional skills,” Moll continued. “Many others have done so. I am rather going to tell you what I personally knew of this man. He was one whom I admired hugely as a great naturalist, teacher and simply one of the finest human beings I have ever had the privilege of meeting in my 60 years of being an educator.
“I first met Anton, “ Moll remembered, “who preferred me to call him Phindile, his given Shangaan first name, in 2007, when I was teaching the Southern Africa Wildlife College module in plant conservation. He was one of the brightest young minds I have ever had the privilege of meeting. What impressed me most was his huge knowledge of plants – he knew not only the Shangaan names of all the trees in the Bushveld, but also their botanical binomials.
“A man of the Bushveld”
“Additionally, he knew their importance in traditional medicine as well as their mystical/magical properties. Clearly, he was a man of the Bushveld.
“Phindile’s short history is also a most wonderful story in itself,” Moll said. “He was ‘discovered’ by the senior warden of Timbavati, Brian Harris, when he was working as a laborer shoveling dirt,” at some point before 2000.
“Under Brian’s expert guidance,” Moll recounted, Mzimba “first became a ranger and eventually graduated with a certificate and diploma from the Southern Africa Wildlife College. At Timbavati he rose through the ranks to become the senior ranger.”
“Before the poacher shoots the rhino, he will shoot me first”
Mzimba, recalled Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation cofounder Carina Crayton, used to say “I’m a hero. I am not shy to say to myself, that I’m a hero. Because I know that the poacher, before he shoots at the rhino, is going to shoot at me first.”
Said Crayton, “Intelligence-driven information revealed that there had been numerous threats against his life, and that his murder was in retaliation for refusing to provide the local rhino poaching syndicate with the exact locations of rhino.
“Anton had been a field ranger for 24 years, dedicating his entire life to the protection of wildlife,” Crayton continued. “At the 2016 Rhino Conservation Awards, he won the title of Best Field Ranger. He also served as the technical advisor for Global Conservation Corps.”
Anton Mzimba on conservation
Explained Mzimba in a 2021 interview recited by Crayton, “The origin of the problem is similar across many parts of Africa. People were displaced from their land when the protected areas were formed, forced to settle on the outskirts of the protected areas.
“They lost their grazing fields. They could no longer access natural resources such as firewood, and they were deprived of water sources that were essential during periods of drought.
“The situation was made worse by the fact that if they want to access the protected areas, they have to pay, and also wildlife frequently eat their crops and kill their livestock, further fueling anger.
“The people are not benefitting”
“The local people see foreign tourists coming to enjoy the protected areas,” Mzimba said, “while the communities are not even allowed to benefit from the game meat to eat. When they do illegally hunt and bring meat back, they are regarded as heroes in the communities.
“The people are not benefitting in any form,” Mzimba continued. “We need to find a way of sharing natural resources. For example, it could be firewood, sharing game meat during the culling of surplus game in the protected area, or sharing a harvest. If we want to control the situation, we need to share resources with local communities.
“We need to give people ownership rights”
“Rangers are armed and equipped with modern technology,” Mzimba said, “but they are not winning the fight. We need to give people ownership rights to the land and share resources in a fair way. When there are new developments for tourism, the people need to be able to have their say and be heard.
“Rhinos are one of the most emblematic endangered animals, but the trade of animals does not stop there –– ivory, bones from lions and leopards, pangolin scales, and more are also highly valuable commodities,” Mzimba warned.
“Without the animals,” Mzimba said, “jobs will disappear, especially for the young people, but ultimately it will affect everyone and everything in a negative way.”