The Black rhinoceros, an African icon, is crashing headlong into extinction despite the best efforts of wildlife organizations that are trying to save them.
Rhinos are being killed for a lie that too many people still believe. In many Asian countries, particularly Vietnam, rhino horn is sought after by the well-heeled because it’s viewed as a status symbol and is also used for folk medicines, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
Records compiled by the WWF show that 668 rhinos were slaughtered in 2012, a 50 percent increase over 2011. The statistics for 2012 show a horrific 5000 percent increase in rhino poaching from 2007, when 13 were killed.
Over the last several years, studies have been conducted in an effort to educate people regarding the medicinal properties of powdered rhino horn. The conclusion? Rhino horn has no medicinal properties whatsoever. Zip. Nada. Zilch. That’s according to this article by Rhishja Larson. The article appeared in National Geographic NewsWatch.
This is what researchers concluded after conducting a study at Hoffmann-LaRoche in 1983 and then following up 25 years later at the Zoological Society of London.
Powdered rhino horn is the equivalent of chewing your own fingernails, Dr. Arne Schiotz of WWF remarked in the article. It’s madeup of the same material as our fingernails-agglutinated hair.
Larson asks why so many millions of people still believe that rhino horn is medicinal, despite all of the evidence by science which proves that this simply isn’t so.
“Is this simply because rhino horn consumers do not have access to accurate information? Or has the rhino horn ‘business’ become so profitable that belief in the curative properties of rhino horn is actually encouraged?” she asks.
Sadly, this is what appears to be happening. It’s a very profitable and cruel business.
Buyers in Vietnam and China shell out as much as $1 million for one single rhino horn. In turn, the money is funneled into poaching operations to purchase helicopters, night-vision scopes, assault rifles, and to bribe crooked wildlife officials, according to David Braun in this National Geographic article.
In Mozambique, rhinos are now extinct; their deaths brought about by rapacious greed. In the country’s Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, poachers, allegedly assisted by park rangers, slaughtered the park’s 15 remaining rhinos, thereby rendering the animals extinct, according to this May 4th article which appeared in Take Part.
“We caught some of them red-handed while directing poachers to a rhino area,” Antonio Abacar, Mozambique’s conservation director said in the article.
One of the rangers reportedly said that he was paid an amount equal to $80.00. This may seem like a trifling amount, but rangers earn $64.00 to $96.00 per month , so that money must definitely seem like a bargain for those trying to eke by on such a paltry salary.
The park employs 100 rangers, 30 of which are expected to appear in court next week, where they will face charges of aiding the poachers in the massacre. However, Mozambique is notoriously lax when it comes to prosecuting poachers, and the government rarely takes punitive action, Take Part reports. Poaching an animal, even one as rare as a black rhino, is only a misdemeanor, so the rangers face little more than a slap on the wrist.
In view of such lax penalties, poaching in South Africa is escalating rapidly, despite the best efforts by wildlife conservationists. Acording to this article by Christopher Torchia of The Associated Press, the rate of poaching is likely to exceed 2012’s record number of kills, wildlife officials said.
While the penalties may be lax, poaching is still a risky business. 279 Mozambican poachers have been killed and more than 300 have been arrested by South African police and army officers, according to an article by Palash Ghosh of the International Business Times.
However, with such a high payout, many poachers obviously still think it’s worth the risk.
The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park also includes Kruger National Park in South Africa and Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe. This huge sanctuary was created in 2002, and all three countries agreed to remove borders, thus allowing the animals to graze and migrate widely, the IB Times reports.
The rhinos that met such cruel deaths in Limpopo had most likely crossed into Mozambique from Kruger National Park, Dr. Jo Shaw, a rhino expert for the World Wildlife Fund, in south Africa, told the IB Times.
Mozambique and South Africa border the South Atlantic Ocean on the continent’s east coast.
Mozambican poachers traffic the horns via airports and seaports, Shaw said. The country is plagued by corruption issues and keeping track of illegal activity is a seriously difficult challenge.
The more money, sophisticated technology and publicity that conservation groups pour into the cause, the more the poachers dig in their heels and resort to drastic measures. Wildlife organizations might concentrate on a specific location, only to have poachers show up in an entirely different area, the article mentions.
South Africa, once a haven for rhinos has now turned into a killing field. It’s turned into a focal point for testing out experiments and policy debates on how to put a stop to the cruel killings.
CITES (the Convention On The International Trade Of Endangered Species) a U.N.-based organization of 173 signatory countries has been pressuring Mozambique to toughen its stance The Associated Press reports.
Hopefully these two countries will pay attention, but one thing is certain: In this high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse, both sides are using ever increasingly sophisticated equipment.
According to Africa Wildlife Detective, there seem to be two types of poachers-subsistence poachers and professional poachers.
Subsistence types are usually on foot. They shoot randomly in the rhino’s direction hoping to hit the animal’s head and chest area. These men also shoot the animal’s legs in order to immobilize it. They then hack off the animal’s horns with an axe, and the horns are given to someone in a crime syndicate, AWD reports. Rhino poaching is extremely risky for subsistence poachers and they usually receive relatively little pay.
It’s a whole other experience for professional poachers, however. Their murderous assaults are well organized and well-stocked with sophisticated technology.
What weapons do poachers use?
- · Helicopters.
- · High caliber guns for killing rhinos.
- · Tranquilizer guns.
- · Veterinary drugs.
Many of these poachers are highly skilled hunters who appear to have military training. Organized crime is involved, and in some cases even veterinarians and wildlife officials that are supposed to protect the rhinos are involved. Veterinarians are suspected because of the use of veterinary drugs, AWD reports.
Swooping in with a helicopter, poachers dart the animals from the air with tranquilizer guns. In less than seven minutes, the rhino will fall, never to get up again. The horns are hacked off with a chainsaw.
Rhinos are usually darted with lethal doses of tranquilizers that result in a quick death. But that’s not always the case. Evidence also shows that some of the animals suffer a great deal of stress before death, AWD mentions. If the dosage isn’t high enough to kill the animal, the rhino may may wake up during the horrifying ordeal. The poor animal may try to breathe through a cavity that’s located in the nasal passages between it’s eyes.
In rare cases, some rhinoceros survive the ordeal, but those that do are left with no sense of smell and a high probability of severe infection.
Wildlife organizations are fighting back.
Fortunately wildlife officials can now look forward to new technology that’s being provided by companies like Canvas, a technology company based in Virginia. The company has provided rangers at Sabi Sand Reserve, which is part of Kruger National Park, with smart phones recently, the AP reported. Now the rangers can use these phones to share data and images immediately. Footprints, holes that have been cut in fences and animal carcasses-these images can make it easier to patrol the bush, and may someday serve as courtroom evidence against suspected poachers.
Drones and satellites may also be used in the fight to protect rhinos, the AP reported. Tom Snitch, a visiting professor in computer studies from the University of Maryland and an expert in drone aircraft and satellite images hopes to test the effectiveness of small drones in a South African game reserve later this month. To predict the movements of rhinos and poachers, he’ll use mathematical models and satellite images to plot flight paths, the AP article reports.
If the poachers are spotted, they can be herded like sheep into an area where they are cornered and then apprehended.
South Africa and Vietnam have signed an anti-poaching deal. Both countries are pledging stricter inspections of cargo at land, air and sea entry points, especially if it’s coming from Africa, the AP reports. Public awareness campaigns are also in full-swing.
Hopefully all of this will put a stop to the poaching, but as of yet the number of rhinos expected to be slaughtered in 2013 bypasses by far the number killed in 2012. If the killing continues at its current rate, as many as 800 rhinos may be slaughtered this year, the AP mentions.
South Africa reports that as of April 18th, 232 rhinos had been killed this year, with 70 percent of the kills having occurred in Kruger National Park.
150 years ago, 1 million black rhinos and white rhinos roamed the African plains, according to the WWFN.
The history of these magnificent animals goes much further back in time-all the way to the Miocene. There are five species of rhinos worldwide and every single one of them is endangered, according to Out To Africa.
It is infinitely tragic that both the black and the white rhino may very likely become extinct because too many greedy people are selling a myth that has no truth, and too many selfish people think of a body part as a status symbol. For them, the rhinoceros is a commodity, and they fail to see this animal as a living, breathing creature.
Humans, as a species, have traveled too far from nature, and we are suffering tragic losses because of this. Like the rhino, too many species are crashing headlong into extinction.