Nelson Mandela - Mike’s Inspiration to Start Rhinos’ Last Stand
I first met Nelson Mandela in 2001 at his Cape Town home when I introduced him to the Mineseeker Foundation, of which I was the founder. Through my other commercial interests, notably in the airship business, we had developed a method of carrying ground-penetrating radar and other sensors that could detect landmines buried beneath the surface of the Earth. I was inspired to develop this technology by Princess Diana - a friend of my long-time business partner Sir Richard Branson.
I showed Mandela the technology that I wholeheartedly believed could change the lives of so many innocent victims at risk of being maimed or killed by landmines — many of whom were women and children.
We’d tested the system in Kosovo and Mandela was not only stunned by the results, but completely fascinated by the technology. He and his wife, Graça Machel, accepted my invitation to become Patrons of the Mineseeker Foundation, along with Sir Richard and Queen Noor of Jordan. At that first meeting he gave me a signed copy of his book 'The Long Walk to Freedom’, which I will always treasure.
Mandela and I struck up a very good relationship from there, and it quickly became ‘Madiba and Mike’ (Madiba was his tribal name).
To me, (and so many around the world) he was the outstanding leader and humanitarian of the century. His views, principles and philosophy shaped how many world leaders and key influencers thought, and how they implemented new initiatives. His legacy will be permanent for all who knew him.
We met on many occasions in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Mozambique and spoke about many subjects, including ridding the world of the scourge of landmines, his views on international aid, his fight for freedom, his incarceration and on African wild animal welfare.
He was concerned about wildlife and in particular, the elephant, and the need to preserve the African wild life heritage. Mandela asked if the technology we had could also help with the animals that were quickly diminishing in numbers due not only to landmines, but also to poaching and loss of habitat. While he directed his sense of injustice towards his fellow man, he also had clear views on the environment in which humanity lived and shared with other living creatures.
I promised him I would look into it – a promise I intend to keep.
I felt that the problem of poaching was in need of a new solution and discovered that the rhino was in most danger: an iconic animal that may not last long enough on the planet to enable our children to experience the wonderment of seeing these noble beasts in their natural habitat.
I reasoned that rhinos were being poached for one reason only: greed. The rhino horns were more valuable than gold and easy pickings for the poachers with very little risk of being caught. If we could remove the value and vastly raise the risk of being caught, why would anyone bother to shoot them? We did both by introducing a forensic DNA, which can trace the rhino, and a toxin, not fit for human consumption, which could be infused into the horn. The horn would then be a useless piece of junk with no value and too risky to poach.
It has taken several years to develop the technology, conduct extensive trials and prove the deterrent works, and I am sorry that Madiba is not here to witness it. But the ‘Rhinos’ Last Stand’ project was inspired by this great man who was committed to making lives better. I am proud to be, in some small way, a part of his enduring heritage.
I recall a statement made by Madiba, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
So let’s do it!