As one of the poster children for world animal conservation, the Rhino gets plenty of attention and plenty of column inches. But how much real help? How much real progress to protect it? Well, new figures published recently by the IUCN tell a chilling story.
Since 2007, roughly ten years, the escalation of poaching has been appallingly steep. Most Rhinos live in South Africa, which puts huge focus and pressure on that country for progress. However, nearby countries Namibia and Zimbabwe have had increases in poaching too; meaning the overall number of poached rhinos has grown from 2014 to 2015.
South Africa on its own had a decrease in poaching incidents last year, and as it holds four-fifths of all Africa's Rhino, that's something to be acknowledged outright. The continent-wide increase however is the number to focus on, as overall poached Rhinos increased to at least 1,338 of the magnificent animals.
Huge pressure has been put on South Africa in recent years for their record on Rhino poaching, with less pressure being applied across the rest of the continent. The situation in South Africa is so bad that some private game reserves have begun to sell off their supply of Rhino to the South African government to be released back into the wild to bulk the population. This is considered an investment, as the presence of Rhinos is a huge boost to the South African economy due to tourism. In addition, these private game reserves fear for increased security costs and attacks on the animals since the wild population is scattered.
So who is poaching these animals and why? Well, fingers have pointed to Asian black markets due to the Rhino horns use in traditional medicines. Trade in countries like China, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Korea has sky rocketed in recent years. It's not difficult to see the correlation between increase numbers of illegal Rhino horns in Asia and increased poaching numbers in Africa.
The threat level is ever increasing too, as demand constantly increases and the supply diminishes. The cost for a single horn has quadrupled in recent years since the trend started. If you wanted to buy an illegal rhino horn now, it will set you back somewhere in the region of $60,000 per pound of horn. This means it's closing in on the same price per weight as Gold and Cocaine. For the whole horn, intact, the price becomes astronomical.
As with many traditional medicines, the evidence for the medicinal benefits of Rhino horn is non-existent.
So why can't they be better protected, why is it so difficult to do so? Well to start with the scale of their habitat. Southern African is a vast, vast landscape with largely inaccessible terrain. Kruger National Park in South Africa, a relative hot bed of Rhino, is the same size as Belgium on its own. Add in two more wild countries like Zimbabwe and Namibia and you're already fighting an uphill conservation battle before you can even lace up your boots.
Another issue would be financial as South Africa has only recently started to pump money into conservation projects within its borders. As for Namibia and Zimbabwe, much of these funds come from international contributions.
It's sad to think that the Rhino is on the brink, but it is. At the current rate of decline, all sub-species of African Rhino could be gone within 15 years. To stop this, an international effort surely must take place to tighten the laws around the world that govern the movement and use of Rhino horn.
A picture circulated in recent years of a baby Northern White Rhino being guarded by armed men AROUND THE CLOCK due to the existence of only three in total. Let's hope it doesn't come to that with all Rhinos, it soon could.
Follow the link to get involved in conservation efforts and projects to protect Africa's Rhinos.
By Guy Bezant - Online Journalism Intern
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