Ancient tradition spells doom
Powdered rhino horn has been a staple of Chinese and Vietnamese medicine for millennia. Previously given to patients with fever, there’s now a belief that it can cure cancer. Combine this erroneous belief with the new cash in emerging Asian markets and the readiness of organised crime to provide, then you have a recipe for disaster.
The rhino horn is composed of the very same proteins that build human hair and fingernails. Unsurprisingly, scientists maintain that there’s no evidence to support its use as a medicine. Nevertheless tradition holds steadfast even in the face of proof and all attempts to convince Asian customers of this science fall on deaf ears.
Rhino poaching statistics rocket
The trade in rhino horn has been ruled illegal under international conventions. As it now is estimated to earn around $65,000 per kilo, putting in the exact same class as narcotics, diamonds and precious metals, organised crime has’zeroed in’. They are also able to use modern methods to secure their kills, such as helicopter raids and night vision technology.
Game wardens have been overwhelmed by the power of the onslaught. The morning brings the bloody sight of yet another victim with its own horn sliced-off. The animal usually dies due to the attack, though a handful can heal their wounds and recover.
Naturally there has been a massive increase in the poaching statistics. Only a few years ago conservationists were less than delighted to report that 10-15 rhinos were being killed annually. But now the most recent figures for South Africa alone demonstrate that 668 animals were massacred last year. The poachers don’t discriminate between adults, juveniles and pregnant females.
The fightback Persists
Conservationists and game reserves are fighting tooth and nail to save the rhino from extinction. They are working to increase cooperation and coordination between the various conservation groups, enforcement agencies and landholders. Policing has also been improved with improved instruction, use of sniffer dogs and increased patrols.
De-horning of their rhinos was carried-out by some game reserves. However, there remain some concerns about whether this is good practice. The horn’s length plays a role in the animals’ pecking order, so removing the horn may interfere with social interaction. Also, some de-horned animals are slaughtered nevertheless. This could be pique on behalf of the poachers, or possibly they don’t want to risk pursuing the exact animals on future searches.
Game reserves also have begun to foster baby rhinos that have lost their mothers due to poaching.
The UK has led global talks resulting in an agreement to decrease the rhino horn trade, in addition to battling the erroneous belief in its value as a curative.
In April last year a number of African stakeholders participate in a summit in Nairobi, led by the Kenya Wildlife Service and the African Wildlife Foundation. Delegates agreed a four-point plan of action to fight rhino poaching.
The Section 24 Rights Coalition is demanding that the South African authorities ceased issuing licences for trophy hunting. It is said that an investigation is required into possible abuses of this system. That said, the SA government did announce last year that there could be tighter regulation on hunting. They also said that microchips would be used, along with DNA profiling, to be able to detect bogus searches.
Conservationists are optimistic that a recent deal between South Africa and Vietnam could be the start of serious attempts to reduce poaching. The 5-year agreement covers seven chief features of cooperation, including the security of SA’s biodiversity and compliance with the international conventions to protect species. (In 2008 a Vietnamese diplomat was filmed receiving illegal rhino horn out his embassy in SA.)
This saw delegates instructed to introduce measures to reduce the demand for rhino horn.
The steadfast refusal of Vietnamese and Chinese customers to be persuaded that the horn isn’t medicine is driving some radical thought.
A group of researchers is saying that the illegality of trading in rhino horn has only served to boost rhino poaching by limiting its availability. They’ve suggested that the previously taboo subject of shaving horn out of live animals should be seriously considered.
This notion has a parallel in crocodile farming, which the researchers say has served to help preserve the species. The lifting of the taboo on talks was also suggested at the Cites conference in March by South African delegates. But it’s hotly contested by some conservationists who say it would have the reverse effect of raising demand. They also point to the effect of private game reserve owners who would make huge sums of money from such a practice.
Save the rhino!
All the initiatives described here show a determination to save the rhinoceros. However, the wholesale killings continue apace and there are fears that the species is really heading for extinction. If significant progress isn’t made in the fight against poaching, then this could happen within the decade.
Surely the world cannot miss this magnificent animal.