I’m extremely new to the business of the podcast. I think the first podcast I ever listened to was Forest 404, and that was this year. The second was Kevin Pietersen: Beast of Man, BBC 5 Live’s 10-part report on rhino poaching in South Africa. I can’t remember how I ended up listening to it, or why I persevered after the first episode, which is really only a hint of what was to come. All I can say, now on episode 9, is that I’m well and truly hooked.
For those of you who don’t do cricket, Kevin Pietersen is the South African who rejected his country’s sports racial quota policy and by dint of an English heritage was able to play for England. While a deeply gifted cricketer, my general impression of him is that he was something of a cock of the walk; brash, opinionated and difficult. Certainly, he is reported to have left every team he played for under a cloud, including England. The Australian team nicknamed Pietersen FIGJAM, acronym for Fuck I’m great, just ask me. Piers Morgan’s a massive fan.
Which makes Beast of Man all the more fascinating. While still every bit as opinionated (he’s a vociferous opponent of hunting), and despite the podcast’s full title, this is not a Kevin-Pietersen-on-Kevin Pietersen-the-conservationist show. On the contrary, it’s front-of-centre star is the rhino – and wildlife and conservation in general. Its enemy is the rhino horn market that makes – for the impoverished – poaching a risk worth taking. It’s very much about the narrative of not-Kevin-Pietersen lives. It’s not even presented by Pietersen; the BBC’s Sarah Brett’s in charge, and part of her remit is to challenge Pietersen where necessary, which she does very well.
The result is an excellent and disturbing account of the war on international trade in animal parts. A story played out in South Africa and in Britain, we accompany Pietersen and the Kruger’s anti-poaching units on sorties. We meet Innocent Ngwenya, poacher turned ranger. We interview Michael Gove. We visit a Surrey-based hunter and his trophy room. We listen to an undercover operative’s first-hand account of the status attached to rhino horn consumption in Vietnam. We follow the work of Don English, South African Park’s Regional Ranger. And we learn on the way what it is that makes the rhino so important – in and of itself, and to us as humans.
All in all, Kevin Pietersen: Beast of Man is fascinating, not least for the surprise (for those of us who don’t know him) that is this Kevin Pietersen. Quiet, generous and dedicated, he works perfectly – in the interests of the rhino. Do have a listen.