Endangered Rhinos Bring Howard G. Buffett Back to His Conservation Roots

Most of Howard G. Buffett’s philanthropy used to go toward conservation, and he's the author of several books about endangered wildlife, including the cheetah and mountain gorilla. But that was before the son of legendary investor Warren Buffett shifted his foundation’s focus in 2006 to helping impoverished countries, focusing on agriculture, water, and food issues. Recently, though, Buffett made a $23.7 million grant to protect rhinos from poaching. Why the throwback?

It all has to do with the geopolitics of the rhinoceros. The Howard G. Buffett Foundation recently pledged the funding over three years to help South Africa’s Kruger National Park combat rampant rhino poaching. Funds will go to help park rangers crack down on hunting, with air and land vehicles and new surveillance teams and equipment. Poaching has soared in South Africa in the past year, as demand for rhino horns in Asian countries has risen, threatening the population of about 20,000 animals in the country.

And while Buffett has long been a supporter of wildlife and conservation causes, this recent grant was driven by the foundation’s efforts to resolve conflict in impoverished nations. He’s compared the rhino horn trade to that of illegal narcotics along the U.S.-Mexico border, with the poaching industry financing conflict in Africa.  

While many criminal networks in Africa and Asia support the illegal poaching, it is believed that the illegal wildlife trade is financing armed groups. The foundation hopes that cutting off the trade will cut off financing for the armed groups, particularly in East Africa. As we've reported elsewhere, the Buffett Foundation has come to focus on resolving conflict in Congo and the Great Lakes region of Africa on the logic that peace is peace and stability are prerequisites to successful farming and food security. 

For the eldest son of the Berkshire Hathaway CEO, the rhino grant is a return to one of his earliest philanthropic issues but also very tied to current funding priorities. 

“This effort joins our foundation's historic support for conservation with our current focus on conflict mitigation in Africa, particularly in the Great Lakes region,” Buffett said in a statement. 

Currently, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation is dedicated to improving quality of life for impoverished and marginalized parts of the world, focusing on food and water security and conflict resolution. 

Through 2005, the vast majority of the Buffett foundation’s support went to conservation, between 80 and 90 percent. In addition to his writing, Buffett has also served on the boards of a number of nonprofits such as the World Wildlife Fund, the Cougar Fund and the Nature Conservancy.

So while Buffet’s giving is decidedly more human-oriented these days, it’s hard to imagine this will be the last big wildlife grant we see from the philanthropist, especially related to work in Africa.

For more IP coverage of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, see here and here