World Rhino Day takes place on 22 September. Despite the title, the crisis is largely confined to South Africa, as home to the majority of the planet's rhinos. However, supply, demand and transit is linked to various nations and, on the opposing side, conservationists, governments and citizens all over the world have taken up arms in the battle to save the rhino. This has turned the animal's plight into a global cause, justifying the term. It is ironic that the day falls only two days before 24 September, which is the day South Africa celebrates Heritage Day. The rhino signifies an important part of the nation's heritage and culture, which is why the fight is close to the hearts of so many South Africans.
This year the poached rhino death toll has already reached 618, almost the same as the total tally for 2012. Despite the alarming increase, progress is slowly but surely being made on the battle lines. A significant leap forward has been the increased involvement of Vietnam, one of the principal end-destinations for rhino horn, in aiding against the crisis. The deputy chief of Vietnam's environmental police has called for research to be carried out to disprove the medicinal value of rhino horn; a delegation from the Asian country recently visited the Kruger National Park to witness the effects of poaching and public education campaigns aimed at rhino horn buyers and consumers will also be launched. Despite a proclivity toward the legalisation of rhino horn in South Africa, the ENV (Education for Nature Vietnam) believes it would be counter-productive as it will reinforce the belief that the horn has medicinal value. The poaching crisis is plagued with numerous problems globally – from weak law enforcement and light sentences to lack of government support and ties to sophisticated criminal syndicates – but the biggest problem lies in its root. As long as the belief exists that rhino horn can cure ailments, there will be demand.
Another complication has arisen which cannot be combatted with any more ease than dispelling ancient beliefs. This is the horn's rising value as a status symbol. One can only hope that the fleeting obsessions tied with today's trends will see the lust for rhino horn disappear and replaced by whatever latest, hopefully harmless, trend emerges. A misconception lies in the belief that the problem is isolated to demand from South East Asia. While the latter is a big part of the problem, one cannot deny the role played by South Africa, Mozambique, the US and Ireland, amongst others, in terms of supply and transit. It is a multi-faceted issue and, globally, we are realising that we need to tackle the dilemma from all sides. We must put an end to pointing fingers and aimless rage and rather work together to save the rhino.
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