With a long chequered past and an uncertain future, some 60 million years of evolution, the African rhino is under the very real threat of extinction.
The second largest mammal, these intimidating yet appealing creatures have become a symbol for wildlife conservation.
I have never forgotten my first encounter with a living dinosaur. Face to face, the startling horn, a living tank and colossal beauty blocked our entrance to the game reserve. Satisfying his curiosity, he turned his huge, bulky frame and trotted away with remarkable grace and speed. A thrill to witness...
It wasn't so long ago that the black and white rhinos roamed the savannahs in their hundreds and thousands. But loss of habitat, and more shockingly, poaching for their horns, have seen numbers fall dramatically.
This alarming escalation in poaching is of grave concern to conservationists. Nearly half of these deaths have involved the critically endangered black rhino - the rarer of the two African species.
It is only after witnessing these animals in their own environment that you begin to realise just how extraordinary rhinos really are. They vary in character with the black rhino, in general, being the shyer of the two. The white rhino appears to be more sociable and significantly bigger in size ( a black male weighs approximately 1300kg, with the white male tipping the scales at 2250kg.)
Attacks on the rhinos have become highly organised and wide-spread, leaving the conservation agencies and welfare groups struggling to respond to such complex operations. Gone are the days of using snares to acquire bushmeat, tranquilliser darts and guns are regularly employed for poaching horn.
The illegal slaughter of these majestic beasts has caused outrage globally - and rightly so. Animals are being lost on an almost daily basis. In 2013 there have been in excess of 273 rhino slayings in South Africa alone.
According to Dr Joseph Okori, head of WWF's African Rhino Programme:
"The African rhino is under serious threat from poachers who have intensified their search of rhino for their horns since 2007, driven by growing market demands in Asia."
The price of rhino horn has overtaken the price of gold as demand has accelerated in Asian countries, mainly China and Vietnam, where clients believe that the horn has powerful healing properties.
The increasing power of Asian economies has made it economically & politically difficult for African authorities to clamp down on such activities as they rely so heavily on aid, the oil trade, minerals, help with construction work, dam building and road maintenance . In addition, farms in Africa have fallen into Asian hands with many being owned, worked and harvested by immigrant workers, Zambia being a prime example.
The conservationists and governments around the world have an uphill struggle on their hands. Solutions to the rhino poaching problem is likely to be complicated and will test the resolve of us all. Be we can't turn a blind eye or give up the fight to save an entire breed. These magnificent, primeval beasts may only survive as semi-domesticated animals with defaced horns, under electronic monitoring and guarded around the clock in wildlife sanctuaries.
We must give all animals a voice as they are unable to defend themselves. Who will speak up and protect their rights to a future?
It's about time we all are prepared to listen to the silent cries for help.
'To every person out there who has had the unforgettable experience of encountering a rhino. To each of you out there who has always longed to do so.
To anyone who calls themselves a lover of nature, a supporter of conservation, a human being, let's stand together as a nation proud and DO SOMETHING.' -
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