Unfortunately, the rhino poaching crisis is nothing new. Throughout history these large land mammals have been subject to periods of unconscionable slaughter at the hand of man. Of the five living species, four – the white, Indian, Sumatran and Javan – have, at one time or another, been reduced to populations of only a few hundred individuals or less. Perhaps more than any other species on the planet, rhinos define what it means to teeter on “the brink of extinction”.
The rhino’s problem isn’t an albatross around its neck, it’s the horn at the tip of its snout. For centuries, millions of people in Asia have regarded rhino horn as medicine, and a growing number now consider it a status symbol as well. A Vietnamese citizen will shell out a relatively small fortune for an ounce of powdered rhino horn, but his or her ability to pay the purchase price has little to do with its effectiveness. It’s doubtful that the buyer has any clue to the “price” the rhino had to pay, and that situation must change.
The 16th Conference of Parties (COP 16) in Bangkok, Thailand was recently attended by representatives of 179 CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) signatory countries. Discussions at COP 16 focused on the enforcement of existing wildlife laws and the imposition of international trade sanctions on countries like Vietnam if they do not clean up their acts. In order to curtail the illegal trade in horn, the parties agreed that specialized investigative techniques are necessary and that the problem of money-laundering must be addressed. They also called for consumer research that will help better understand the factors that are driving demand.
A number of organizations are already working hard to document and analyze the trade that originates largely in the Republic of South Africa – a country that holds almost three-quarters of the world rhino population – and now ends primarily in Vietnam – a country has a rising standard of living but lost its last rhino only a couple of years ago. The International Rhino Foundation will help TRAFFIC: The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network, translate a comprehensive report, The South Africa – Vietnam Rhino Horn Trade Nexus, and distribute it in Vietnam. Two other non-governmental organizations, Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV) and South Africa’s Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) , are partnering on an anti-rhino poaching campaign that is both multi-media and bi-lingual. Posters encourage consumers to stop the slaughter by not using rhino horn, and to consider the baby rhinos that are orphaned by poaching. An ENV public service announcement supported by Save the Rhino – International and Conservation International’s Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund confronts rhino horn consumers as “ignorant, foolish, backward, cruel and evil”, and hammers home the message that rhino horn is neither status symbol nor medicine.
In 2012, more than 700 white and black rhinos were killed by poachers in southern Africa, 668 of them in the Republic of South Africa alone – a rate perilously close to two rhinos per day – and the slaughter shows need immediate signs of decreasing. Fortunately, up to this point, births have kept pace with deaths, but that situation is destined to change if nothing is done, and experts predict that African rhino populations will begin to spiral downward in only a couple of years.
If you would like to help support efforts to save southern Africa’s threatened rhinos, go to: http://www.rhinos.org/operation-stop-poaching-now.