May 1st is the internationally recognized as Save the Rhino Day. These 24 hours can be utilized to draw attention to the plight of these animals whose numbers continue to be decimated due to ignorance and human greed.
“The only way to save a rhinoceros is to save the environment in which it lives because there’s a mutual dependency between it and millions of other species of both animals and plants”. Sir David Attenborough
In February 2020 the South African Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, released the 2019 statistics, which showed a decrease in the number of animals poached. But these numbers are still unacceptably high given that the breeding cycle of rhino cannot keep up with the decimation of the species.
Current Rhino populations?
In Southern Africa, our elusive Black Rhino population remains critically endangered, with about 5,000 left. The White Rhino is seen as the least endangered with approximately 20000 individuals. The Asian species have suffered even more, with 3,500 Indian one-horned rhinos left in Nepal and India, fewer than 100 Sumatran rhinos, and only about 60 Javan rhinos left in the world. 80% of the world’s remaining rhinos are found in South Africa, and as a result, this Southern tip of Africa has become a hub for the international wildlife poaching syndicates who target both the Black and White Rhino populations.
Do Rhino populations matter?
Indeed they do. Being important grazers, they consume large quantities of vegetation, thus helping to shape the various ecosystems in which they are currently found. As a result, other animals are able to feed freely, thus enabling a healthy balance within an ecosystem. Resident local human populations often have a symbiotic dependency on the natural resources within a rhino habitat for food, wood for fuel and an income from the sale of sustainable goods (like wood and vegetables).
Why are rhino poached?
As a species, the rhino has been around for more than 50 million years, yet humans seem to be intent on trying to eradicate them on an almost wholesale manner. They are killed for the only part of their body that is useful to poachers, their horn. Supposedly, in certain cultures, it was seen as an aphrodisiac but is now seen as a ‘cure’ for a variety of illnesses, from cancer to erectile issues. Although there have been numerous campaigns to inform and educate that the horns consist only of keratin (the same as human fingernails) all of this has fallen on deaf ears and the slaughter continues. Finding a bloated corpse out in the veld can be a traumatic experience for those tasked with the protection of this endangered species. It seems that once again greed and hard currency is the overriding emotion behind the continued killing.
What of the future for the local Rhino populations?
Anti-poaching measures are a high priority, and counter technology is being improved constantly. But these measures alone will not be totally successful without the cooperation of the local populations as well as funding from both Government and the private sector to enable conservation programs to be continued and expanded.
Currently, there are Rhino populations in Africa as well as India, while the most endangered is the Javan Rhinoceros. Much like both the White and Black Rhinoceros in Africa, the Indian numbers have been vastly reduced due to both hunting and the loss of their natural habitat.
What can we do to stop the slaughter?
As a population, we can lobby for stiffer penalties for convicted poachers and more specifically the paymasters at the head of syndicates. More money can be spent on the education of rural populations into the actual cost of losing these animals and the devastation that will have on the ecology of certain areas where they naturally occur. And most importantly, to use days like Save the Rhino to drive home the message across the board.
Is this a statement on what Rhino think about us?
Have YOU ever been charged by a rhino? A moment of levity in an otherwise serious topic.
While the promise of money for information and body parts outweighs the threat of imprisonment and fines this slaughter will continue. It might slow down but human nature being what it is, it will, unfortunately, never be eradicated. We all need to be vigilant in trying to stem the tide in order for this species to continue. Not only to survive but to thrive, so that many generations into the future they can be enjoyed in their natural environment.
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