Rhino conservation is a forefront issue globally and in South Africa in particular, where more than 80% of the world’s rhino population currently reside. South African rhinos have been facing an onslaught from poaching syndicates since 2008.
2013 was one of the deadliest years for rhinos on record, with more than 1 000 killed in South Africa alone. Almost 14 rhinos are shot on a weekly basis and some estimate that rhinos could become completely extinct within the next decade
As it is, from once roaming throughout Africa, Asia, Europe and North America there are currently only approximately 4 800 black rhino and 20 000 white rhino surviving in the wild.
Why is saving the rhino so important?
Besides the obvious fact that they are beautiful creatures who deserve not to be slain for their body parts, humans have a responsibility not to drive the other creatures we share this earth with to extinction. Rhinos are in particular remarkable creatures in that they are the second biggest land mammal on earth after the elephant and have existed for over 50 million years.
Rhinos are important to the SA economy and to the economies of other African countries. As one of the “Big 5” animals popular on African safaris, they contribute to economic growth and sustainable development through tourism. This in turns creates jobs and provides multiple benefits to local communities.
Other animals in the eco system such, as egrets, rely on the existence of rhinos for their own survival. When rhinos are protected, many other species are too.
What are current developments in rhino conservation?
New strategies to alleviate rhino poaching and promote rhino conservation are multi-pronged.
The government is currently reviewing a controversial bill to legalise the trade of rhino horn. As it stands, rhino poaching is a multi-billion dollar worldwide illicit trade. The theory is that legalising and managing it could take the profit motive out of poaching. On the other hand, it may also make laundering and selling poached horn even easier.
Anti-poaching initiatives are now using forensic technology, including the DNA profiling of rhinos, to support the successful prosecution of wildlife criminals. Effective punishment and removing these poachers from society should slow down the rate of extinction.
South African National Parks (SANParks) has recently taken up some major initiatives in beefing up its anti-poaching arsenal. They have recently deployed of a Gazelle military helicopter with night vision capability to monitor parks.
Starting in January 2015, a conservation group called Rhinos Without Borders will fly as many as 100 rhinos from South Africa to a less densely populated region in Botswana. Since there are strict laws against poaching in Botswana, a safe haven for the animals has been created there. In addition to ensuring their immediate safety, relocating rhinos is beneficial long-term in that it creates a new breeding ground to encourage rhino population growth.
What can you do?
As a citizen, what you can do is create awareness in your community and support rhinoconservation initiatives such as the Rocking for Rhinos festival in Hoedspruit. This music/conservation festival features local, national and international who have joined in thecause to save the rhino.
Each festival ticket purchased gets donated towards conservation and anti-poaching initiatives to help address the ever-worsening poaching crisis. Find out more here.