Rallying Around Rhinos: International Efforts to Save One of Africa’s Most Beloved Species
Rhinos all around the world are in serious trouble. Poaching is at an all-time high, rising from 333 rhinos killed in South Africa for their horns back in 2010 to more than 1,200 killed last year. And the bloodshed shows no signs of stopping.
The last Vietnamese rhino was shot and killed in 2009, and in November of 2011 the western black rhinoceros was declared extinct by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature & Natural Resources (IUCN). The black rhino, Javan rhino and Sumatran rhino are all currently listed as critically endangered, with less than 100 of the latter two species left.
The white rhinoceros, of which an estimated 20,000 remain in the wild, is not on the Endangered Species yet. But some rhino conservation experts suggest that, if poaching continues at its current rate, rhinos may disappear from the wild entirely within the next 30 years.
The Root of the Rhino Poaching Problem
At the beginning of the 20th century there were more than 500,000 rhinos spread across Africa and Asia. A century later, less than 30,000 remain. And the reason why basically boils down to a lie.
Rhino horn has historically been used to cure a variety of ailments throughout Asia. In traditional medicine, the horn is shaved or ground into a powder and dissolved in water, then used to treat fever, rheumatism, headache, gout and myriad other disorders (including cancer). As supply went down and demand went up, so did the prices: Rhino horns are currently worth around $45,000 a pound on the black market, making them more valuable than gold.
Unfortunately there’s not a single scientific study to back up the claims that rhino horn has any medicinal properties whatsoever. Rhino horn is actually made of keratin – the same protein found in hair, fingernails, horse hooves and turtle beaks. And yet still these majestic creatures continue to be killed at an increasingly alarming rate.
Why Rhinos Matter
There are around 25,000 rhinos left in Africa, where they are considered one of the “Big Five” animals that travelers want to see on safari (along with lions, leopards, elephants and Cape buffalo).
For the 11 countries that feature the “Big Five” as a tourist attraction – including Botswana, Zambia, Uganda, Namibia, Ethiopia, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Malawi – these iconic species are at the top of an ecosystem that ultimately cannot survive without them.
“Africa generates about $80 billion in ecotourism revenue each year,” explains conservation advocate and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Dereck Joubert. “Most of that is focused on seeing big cats, elephants and rhinos. If we have beautiful lodges in pristine landscapes, but no big wildlife, that model would collapse immediately. Without those tourism dollars, we’d see increased poverty in many countries and, as a result, increased poaching for bush meat. It’s like a plague that ends in the total eradication of natural wildlife structures, and further damage to sustainable economics in Africa.”
Some Good News for Rhino Conservation
If there’s good news for rhinos, it’s that they have one of the most outspoken and politically active networks within the wildlife conservation community. Organizations such as Save The Rhino, World Wildlife Fund and the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust are all extremely active in raising awareness and funds for rhino conservation initiatives.
Great Plains Conservation, a foundation started by Dereck Joubert and his wife Beverly, has also launched Rhinos Without Borders, an initiative to save the rhino by translocating 100 of them from South Africa to Botswana in order to protect them from the tragic rise in poaching. To do this, they’ll need to raise nearly $5 million, as the costs to capture, transport, quarantine and release these animals will average about $45,000 per rhino.
Fortunately, these grassroots conservation initiatives are gradually making a difference in fighting back against the rise in poaching. The black rhino population in Africa has more than doubled since 1993, when it reached a low of just 2,300 animals. And the southern white rhino is one of the world’s great Cinderella stories: From a population of around 50 in the wild in the early 1900s, this subspecies has grown in numbers to over 20,000, making it the most populous of all rhino species.
But, with rhinos being poached at an average rate of one every seven hours, the time for action is now.
See Rhino in the Wild
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