Since the 1970, rhinos in Asia and Africa have suffered a 90 percent decline. This is mainly due to large-scale poaching. The population, which used to be around 500,000 at the beginning of the 20th century, is down to a staggering 29,000.
They are being slaughtered illegally to fuel the ravenous demand for horn products in both China and Vietnam. Despite the fact that rhino horns have no medicinal properties, the myths still live on and rhino horn is now more expensive (in weight) than gold.
These myths are behind the booming multi-million dollar trade and have made rhinos the world’s most endangered species. Throughout China and Vietnam, the horns, which are made of keratin (the same as our hair and nails), are no longer just used to practice traditional medicine or for their aphrodisiac-like properties.
Instead, they are advertised as a “cure-all remedy” for everything from hangovers to eczema and even cancer. Sadly, it has been proven that rhino horn has the same medicinal effect as chewing on one’s own fingernails. The newly wealthy in Vietnam are also placing the population under threat, as they seek to display rhino horns as a status symbol.
The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, a joint initiative between Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe that began in 2002, recently announced that the last 15 of an estimated 300 rhinos that roamed the conservation have just been shot dead for their horns last month.
Wildlife authorities believe that with the help of Limpopo’s poorly-paid game rangers, poachers were able to track the rhinoceroses. Vulnerable to corruption by organized poaching gangs, who are fixated on cashing in on the deadly wildlife trade, the rangers have become easy targets.
Mozambique’s failure to bring the poaching of these intelligent animals to an end has prompted warnings from South Africa to re-erect fences between their reserves in Kruger. Unfortunately, killing a rhino in Mozambique has a more lenient punishment than South Africa. If someone is charged with the slaughter of the mammal in the south, the punishments are stricter than killing a person, but in Mozambique offenders (if prosecuted at all) generally slide by with a slap on the wrist.
This year, in the South African part of the park, 180 have been killed so far out of a total 249. Last year, 668 rhinos were poached in South Africa — a 50 percent increase from 2011.
“They will stop at nothing to get to their quarry,” Kelvin Alie, from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, told The Telegraph. “It is tragic beyond tears that we learn game rangers have now become the enemy in the fight to protect rhino from being poached for their horns.” According to the park’s administrators, 30 rangers are due to appear in court in the coming weeks for the animals’ massacre.
“Clearly the open fence agreement has become an open season for poachers,” spokesperson for South Africa’s environment minister, Albi Modise, said. “Rangers in the Kruger National Park are engaged in daily battles with Mozambican poachers. Rhinos being killed in Kruger are mostly by Mozambican poachers who then move the horns out through their airports and seaports,” she explained. “With huge governance and corruption issues in Mozambique, it’s a huge challenge.”
But what happens when the world’s entire population becomes extinct? Then what?
Javan rhino: fewer than 50
Sumatran rhino: fewer than 200
Borneo rhino: about 30
Greater one-horned rhino: 2,949
Black rhino: 4,860
Southern White rhino: 20,600
Northern White rhino: 7