Every year since 2008 the number of rhinos being poached for their horns has increased. In 2013 over 1 000 rhinos were poached. This year the number of rhinos already killed is on track to beat the previous year. Both the Black and White rhino have a long history of being overhunted. Populations have fluctuated from being decimated to increasing populations, back to decimation.
In the 1960s there were only a few remaining Southern white rhinos being held in a game reserve in South Africa. From 1961 to 1972, 1 100 Southern white rhinos were translocated across the world to zoos, private reserves and national parks. This project was named ‘Operation Rhino’ and with the help of commercial game farmers the number has increased tenfold, and 95% of the world’s Southern white rhinos are now found in South Africa. ‘Operation Rhino’ is one of South Africa’s greatest conservation success stories, but sadly that’s not the end of the story. White rhinos are listed as Near Threatened and Black rhinos are Critically Endangered.
The reason that rhinos are slaughtered is for their horns. Rhino horns are used for “medicinal” purposes and are believed to heal all kinds of sicknesses, to be an aphrodisiac and a party drug for the wealthy. Across Southeast Asia rhino horn, per kilogram, is worth more than heroin, cocaine, gold or platinum. Vietnam has a particularly high interest in rhino horn and South Africa has seen a huge increase in the number of Vietnamese nationalists legally hunting rhinos in South Africa.
South Africa and Namibia are the only two places in the world where you can still legally hunt rhino. If done correctly and in moderation, hunting is an important part of both land and animal conservation. The problem comes with poaching. With rhino horn demand at an all-time high, the prices for the horn are just too tempting for many poachers who are willing to risk their lives for the horns.
However, the problem is much bigger than a few poachers smuggling rhino horn. The rhino horn trade involves an entire global network of gangs, mobsters, politicians, business men, playboy millionaires and government officials. I recently read Julian Rademeyer’s Killing for Profit and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about the poaching of rhinos and the horn trade.
There is a lot that needs to be done to stop the poaching, but where do we start? If we cannot change the minds of people halfway across the world, then we need to start here at home. We need to stop the harvesting of the actual horns themselves. Some farms and reserves have tried cutting the horns off, since rhino horn is made of keratin, the same material as human hair or fingernails. But poachers are so desperate they will still kill a rhino for the little bit of horn buried under the skin.
The rhino uses its horn for defending itself, for feeding and for fighting. That is why, at Inverdoorn, we have injected our rhinos’ horns with a dye and poison. This dye is X-ray detectable so if there is an attempt to smuggle the horn though airport security it is detected. It is also poisoned, which makes it inconsumable and useless for poachers. The poison does not harm the rhino because it is injected into the horn, and the horn grows upwards with the poison. This also means that the poison must be injected several times at the base of the horn to insure the whole horn is poisoned.
So far we have seen no negative effects with this method and it has kept our rhinos safe. We also have a rhino patrol that goes out every night and keeps watch over the rhinos and the entire reserve to make sure that no one is on the premises that shouldn’t be. It is very important to us that our rhinos are kept safe and so we are doing everything we can to insure their safety.
It is sad that the one thing the rhino uses to protect itself is killing it. Rhinos are prehistoric creatures; they are beautiful, agile and majestic. If you take the time to really look at a rhino you will see that they are amazing creatures. They have very thick, hard skin that protects them from other rhinos, predators and the Acacia trees’ thorns. They have large, radar-like ears that give them excellent hearing, and large nostrils that help them with their sense of smell. If you ever look into a rhino’s eyes, ask yourself: how could anyone slaughter such a magnificent animal? Sadly, greed knows no boundaries. This is why it is so important that we help these creatures and why projects like Inverdoorn’s RhinoProtect are so important to these animals. It is up to humans to help them, since it is we who are destroying them.