I want to take a second to spread the word about the dire current rhino situation I was made aware if in Zimbabwe this month. At this rate, these beautiful animals will be totally extinct within 2-5 years, due completely to an absolutely terrible poaching problem.
Rhino horn is believed in Vietnamese, Chinese, and a few other eastern cultures to be extremely spiritually valuable. It’s used as a type of aphrodisiac… a viagra, if you will, believed to give you the sexual stamina and size of a rhino… apparently. It is also used in different forms of medicine and in different ways as a luxurious status symbol. Read more about this belief here and its legitimacy on Scientific American here.
It’s so valuable that people will pay upwards of ONE MILLION US dollars for a rhino horn. This gives poachers a massive business, and little reason to give a care about the well-being of the endangered animals. Even drug cartels have made their homes on the coast of Southern Africa, making more money from killing rhinos than they are from cocaine.
The money in it is so good that they are beginning to use helicopters, night vision, and long-distance shooting mechanisms to kill the rhinos. They sometimes leave the poor animals alive after cutting their faces off, and make off into the darkness with what is only like a fingernail to the rhino.
These were taken at Matobo National Park in Zimbabwe, on a walk to see the rhinos. Poaching has become so bad that our guide told us to make sure the location was turned off on our phones when taking photos, because poachers can tap into location details of photos posted on social media.
Just this year a rhino was brutally killed when poachers literally broke into the Paris zoo. The park we visited, Matobo, had 156 rhinos 8 years ago. They now have 56. Etosha National Park alone had 81 rhinos killed in the first half of last year. Kruger National Park had over 650 rhinos killed last year, and the president of the park was found to be heading the poaching operations! As of now, there has been a domestic trade law proposed in South Africa, to the delight of many African countries (but not to many western countries. I’m here to be a voice for the African side of the debate).
Familiarize yourself more with the crisis here. An excerpt from this page: “In South Africa alone, poachers kill three or more rhinos per day to feed the demand for horn on the black market.” Although some species are not yet endangered, the rate at which they are being killed will lead them to be extinct within 2-5 years.
Wildlife conservationists here in Africa are trying their best to protect the beautiful, prehistoric creatures, but the truth is that without much money coming into their efforts and with SO MUCH money in the poaching end, they are losing the battle… and quickly.
Currently there are rangers employed to protect rhinos in most parks. Here in Matobo National Park (Zimbabwe), the rangers live out in the bush camping around the rhinos 10 days on and 10 days off, getting paid only $150-$200 a month (although the government here hasn’t been able to afford paying them for a few months). They have a shoot-to-kill policy in Zimbabwe (although in other countries like South Africa there is only a small fine for poaching), and these men are in danger each and every day to the advanced weapons of poachers. The problem has advanced from locals trying to make a few bucks to professional, international poachers using modern technology to obtain their horn.
This is one of the valiant rhino rangers who risks his life to protect the animals.
Park rangers have tried cutting off the horns of the rhinos every few years (the horn is like a fingernail – it grows back at a rate of 5+cm/year, and is not attached to the bone, rather just on the skin), hoping to make them less desirable to poachers. However, this only made them more angry. They continued to kill the rhinos, even for a tiny base amount of horn that could still be worth up to $200k.
At this rate of poaching, the rhinoceros species will be extinct from this earth within the next 2-5 years. Although some species are not on the endangered list, they are declining at a rate so exponential that they would be gone within that time. That is, unless something drastic happens. The expert we talked to on our tour, Ian, (who is the source of a lot of this information) presents a completely plausible solution and the opinion of most African conservation efforts: legalizing the trade of rhino horn.
The trade of rhino horn is currently obviously illegal. It’s illegal in order to ‘protect’ the animals, and in a sort of Western effort not to legitimize the clearly quite outdated Chinese belief that fuels the desire to obtain them. There is fear that legalization would increase demand and seem like ‘giving in’ to the problem.
However, the illegality of the trade presents a reason for poachers go to such lengths to steal the horns. It’s an ancient belief, so telling them ‘no’ would kind of be like telling Christians not to believe in God. Clearly, legal or not, they want their rhino horn anyway.
Legalizing the trade would allow rangers and conservationists to perform what would be equivalent to a manicure to to the rhinos every few years, sell it, and use the money to bring back into conservation. As it currently stands, all money from rhino horn goes straight to poachers, leaving them far richer and with better equipment and resources than these African parks (who are without any money especially in Zimbabwe given its current political and economic situation). If sums of money that large could go to conservation it would make a world of difference to protect the animals, to stop poachers going to extreme lengths, and to help revive a species that has historically shown its ability to repopulate.
So, how can we help? The issue goes up for a vote every few years with CITES – the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Last vote it lost by four, and it lost by one vote a few years back. Each country has a representative on this board. The next vote is in 2019, and if rhinos are not extinct by then, there is a possibility to stop all this poaching and save them.
It’s important to note that I am presenting this topic from an African perspective after my travels through this continent. Many US-based and western conservation efforts still stand by the fact that they do not support legalization of the trade. But, as each and every ranger and guide I have met in Africa will say, legalization is practical, and the West is stopping it. Some may see it as sad to go to such lengths as to remove and sell rhino horns for such a silly reasons, but is it better to do that (like a manicure to the rhino) or to have them brutally killed with advanced weapons at exponential rates? While efforts are underway to stop the consumer demand for a medicine that has been proven to have no value, it simply makes sense to give the people what they want.
How can you help the rhinos?
- Because there is a representative for CITES from each country, you can call/email and lobby your representative to vote for the legalization of rhino horn trading. It’s the only way to bring more money into conservation in countries like Zimbabwe (whose governments don’t even have enough money to pay the protectors of the rhinos, and don’t make much through tourism.) Here is the contact list.
- Read about and donate to WWF South Africa here.
- You can sign the ‘pledge to save rhinos’ here.
- You can ‘like’ the International Rhino Foundation (USA) on Facebook, or donate to their efforts:
- Simply educate yourself on the issue and form an opinion yourself! It will be clear to see that the West has a different opinion on the matter, but my travels in Africa have lead me to believe what I have written here.
Why has it lost in the past?
Again, it’s more the Western countries that are stopping it because they believe that legalization would legitimize this belief that rhino horn basically has superpowers/medicinal value, and/or may increase demand. As it sounds, stripping a rhino of its horn and selling it sounds bad, but it is not fully understood that cutting off rhino’s horns does not harm them whatsoever, or that doing so could actually save them. There are also debates about whether legalizing trade would reduce, meet, or actually increase demand. Africa is the main victim of poaching, but a lot of the groups (Like the IRF) are based in the US and have a largely Western perspective. That’s why it’s so hard to come to a decision! Read more about this big debate on the IRF (Western) here.
More about the difficulty of the issue here.
And sometimes, certain countries have a sort of ’you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ tendency. Countries that are benefitting from the black market horn trade will vote against legalization, and will get other countries to do so too by voting on measures that help that country. There is a lot of corruption in the world!
Why has this not gotten more media attention?
That’s the million dollar question. This deserves far more attention than it has received, especially given the media attention that other, non-endangered species have received. Just as food for thought:
Take Cecil the lion, for example. He was dying anyway, lions are not endangered, and they’re able to reproduce at at high rate (as opposed to rhinos having one baby at a time and a 16 month gestation). Someone paid $50k to kill a lion that was dying, and all that money went back into conservation. That doesn’t make it right, but this was one of the most viral stories of the year and this man was hated by the world.
There has been a global uproar over elephant ivory as well. Many parts of Southern Africa are actually over-populated with elephants at the moment, with too many for the area they are in, causing other species to suffer. They are far from endangered (which doesn’t make it right either, but just to make a point!).
Rhino numbers are at a historical global low due to professional and violent poaching… and in the media? Crickets. Let’s change that!
So, spread the word, contact your rep, and maybe, just maybe, our children can live to see a real rhino like we have been privileged to do.
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