According to the International Rhino Foundation, three rhino are killed every day from poaching. The southern white rhino has a population estimate from the IUCN Red List of just 10,000 mature individuals. Whilst the world has gone into lockdown, the poachers have come alive and increased their poaching efforts. This post covers why poachers target rhinos and the efforts we must undertake in attempting to protect these beautiful animals.
Why hunt rhino?
Rhino are hunted for their horns which are made of keratin, the same substance as our hair and fingernails. It is illegal to sell under CITES making it extremely valuable on the black market. One of the reasons for rhino poaching is to sell the horns as a symbol of wealth and riches. Particularly in Vietnam, young businesses are gifting whole rhino horns to forge partnerships.
In traditional Chinese medicine, rhino horn is ground down and boiled in the belief it cures gout, headaches and fevers. There is yet no evidence to suggest rhino horn actually relieves a person of these ailments. In fact, it’s believed recovery comes more from the belief it will work than to the cure actually working. The killing of such beautiful animals for medicine, when no evidence of its success is available is unjustifiable and despicable. It is no reason to be driving these species to extinction.
Poaching isn’t a humane killing. Carving into their heads to dig out the horns from the root whilst the animal remains alive is brutal. Slashing their ears and cutting their jaws and spines to prevent them running away, all whilst their calf squeals around them.
In the bush, nights are bright. The moon and stars provide enough light without the need for a torch. Whilst to us, a full moon lighting up the night is beautiful and the loud chattering of frogs is like a symphony, to poachers it is the perfect conditions. The full moon will always bring poachers who can kill and harvest without the need for torches and the babble of the wild covers their sounds. This makes it more difficult to find them and prevent their attacks.
How do we protect them?
Anti-poaching teams are working tirelessly around the clock carrying out patrols to scare off and catch poachers before they strike. For many reserves, anti-poaching teams may be smaller or non-existent due to the current pandemic causing them to have ‘locked down’ with their families away from reserves. Or, their teams have made the difficult decision to ‘lock down’ with their reserves and continue patrolling and protecting these animals away from their families, risking their lives and also being fearful for the lives of their families due to the pandemic.
Some reserves in South Africa have chosen to dehorn their rhino. This will cost them a lot of money as dehorning must be repeated every year. Dehorning is an intrusive solution, which many do not want to undertake, but the welfare and protection of the rhino must be a priority.
This is a practice they do not enjoy participating in. They do not want to sedate and cut the horns of their rhinos down to the stump. They do not want to repeat this every year, with every rhino on the reserve, because the horns grow back. But they must. Dehorning reduces the chance of a rhino being poached yet their value on the black market means a poacher will kill a rhino just for the stub of the horn left behind. They may also be killed out of vengeance.
What can we do?
To see these animals living on their reserve without their horns is truly heart breaking. The teams at these reserves still live in fear that every night they are seeing a rhino for the last time because in the morning it may be dead. They are living in fear that poachers will attack their families to find out where the rhino horns are being stored because they cannot be sold. Imagine living in constant fear for your life, your family’s lives, and the lives of the animals you have dedicated your life to protecting. This is the reality facing rhino reserves all year round, and this lockdown is increasing the fear, danger and poaching efforts.
It is hard for anyone who has not seen the poaching crisis first-hand to imagine the impact it’s having. This account may have focused on the rhino, but the reality is that poaching is causing the decline of more species globally and it needs to stop. Donating directly to wildlife reserves, sharing posts and raising awareness are just some of the ways we can help to protect these animals and support those on the frontline of this rhino poaching war.
This post was inspired by my trip to Mankwe
Reserve, South Africa, who are doing an incredible job in aiding rhino
conservation. All photos are my own.
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