The teacher asked his attendant, ’Bring me the rhinoceros fan.’ The attendant replied, ‘The fan is broken.’ The teacher said, ‘Then bring me the rhinoceros.’

~ Blue Cliff Record, Case 91

When the rhinos are gone, what then will we bring?

It was a Friday afternoon as the sun was setting over the South African veldt, a vast expanse of tall brush and trees interspersed with grasslands. A small pride of lions were laying about resting, while two of their number tore at the stinking carcass of a rhino, poached only a couple of days before for its rhino horn, which fetches up to $60,000 a kilo. Poaching in South Africa has swelled from 17 rhinos taken in 2007 to over 1,000 last year. They may be gone in less than 20 years.

The previous day, we were walking across the Victoria Falls Bridge, which passes over the Zambizi River; on one shore Zimbabwe and on the other Zambia. As we arrived on the far shore, we were met by a group of vendors selling carvings and wooden trays. We bought a couple of small carved rhinos. One vendor remained persistent, wanting to sell us a string of dark wooden beads. We got in the van and left, driving a mile down the road to the customs house. A short time later, the same man appeared outside our van window, waving his handful of beads, asking us to buy them. He had run that mile to sell us something worth about two dollars. I was touched and moved by his effort and obvious need, and bought the beads. They now sit in honor on my altar at home.

With economies collapsed, populations swelling and officials corrupt, it is not hard to see why locals are turning to poaching over selling curios to tourists. I don’t know that we can save any of them ~ the poachers, the politicians, the people. Or the rhinos. What then will we bring? With great respect and care, we will bring the wooden beads.