Friday, 24 February 2012

Rhino Poaching

Rhino poaching reached record highs in 2011. 

Though poaching was an issue of global concern that I had studied about in school, for me its critical implications did not crystallize until I came to South Africa.  Since I have been here I have had the opportunity to encounter both a black and a white rhinos in the wild on more than one occasion and I must say these creatures are majestic. 

White rhino at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi

What is devastating is that these animals are regularly killed because of the dollar value of their horns.  Poachers saw off a darted rhino’s horn, leaving the creature to bleed to death.  The trade is mainly fuelled by the high demand from Asian medicine markets, especially in China and Vietnam.  Rhino horns are thought to have powerful healing properties.  Scientists, however, maintain that rhino horns are made from the same material as fingernails and have no proven medicinal value.  Regardless of that, BBC reports that the price of rhino horn is now in the region of £35,000 ($55,000) per kilogram.

South Africa is home to70 to 80% of the world’s rhino population.  As a result it has become the target of what the WWF calls “organized poaching gangs”.  Though the black and white rhino populations are growing healthily, in 2011 a record of 448 rhinos were poached in South Africa.  That total included 19 black rhinos, which are considered to be critically endangered, as less than 5,000 remain in the wild. 

Black rhino at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi

I think that being aware of an issue and being concerned by it are ultimately two different things.  It wasn’t until I got to meet a rhino and got to see how protective it is of its family, and how caring it is for its young and how calm and gentle it is when it doesn’t feel threatened that I was truly touched by how devastating its predicament is. 

White rhino at Kruger National Park

WWF reports that more than half of South Africa’s rhino deaths took place in the Kruger National Park.  When my parents and I were in Kruger a few days ago we were really lucky to encounter both black and white rhinos on more than one occasion.  However, we met an old man, who told us that he has lived just outside the park his entire life.  He would go into the park occasionally to marvel at the beauty of the animals and look for species he hadn’t had the opportunity to see before.  He told us that in 40 years of driving through the park he never once saw a rhino.  Maybe he was just extremely unlucky.  He probably was.  But let’s make sure that in the future the world is not equally unlucky.

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