|Black Rhino Charge
A Black Rhino lazily reaches for leaves along the shady trees in Zimbabwe, Africa. The 3,000 pound male suddenly lifts his head as an all too familiar scent reaches his gaping nostrils. He takes a step back and raises his ears to trace the location of the invaders who remain undetected by his weak eyes. The rhinoceros has become ill-tempered and wary with these constant interruptions. The animal senses the location of the predator and snorts a warning. He sees a blurry object step out of the bushes spurring the rhino to lower his head and break into a gallop with the intention of goring the intruder at almost 30mph. But the bullets that tear through his hide are faster than he could ever be, and the animal crashes to the ground with a bellow.
Peter Knights, co-director and founder of WildAid (www.wildaid.org), an international environmental organization dedicated to savings the world’s wildlife from extinction, estimates “that 100 years ago 100,000 rhinos roamed over vast lands in Africa and Eurasia.” The 5 species of Rhino that remain now number less than 19,000 and are restricted to fragmented habitats in Africa, India and South East Asia. The need for land by the world’s growing human population is a major threat to the rhino’s natural habitats. Fragmented land also reduces the effectiveness of protected areas which rhinos often move out of while foraging. Sadly, few species of rhino survive outside of national reserves and parks. Hunting and illegal poaching, by those seeking to sell the valuable rhino horn in the foreign market, is presently the greatest threat to the already limited rhino populations.
|Helping an injured Rhino
Rhinos are one of the largest land mammals. Unfortunately, their large size and predicable habits make them vulnerable targets. “Rhinos tend to make daily visits to the same watering hole, for example, where they are easily picked off by awaiting poachers (World Wildlife Fund).” In recent decades rhinos have been hunted to the point of near extinction. The
World Wildlife Fund (www.wwf.org), calculated that “since 1970 the world’s rhino population has declined by 90 percent.”
The five remaining species of rhino fall into three distinct subfamilies, one extended to Africa and the other two to Asia. All species are threatened with extinction:
3,100 Black Rhino, 8,400 southern White Rhino, 30 northern white rhino, under 2,400 Indian Rhino, around 400 Sumatran Rhino, and 70 Javan rhino exist today.
Reasons for decline:
With most rhinos reaching an average age of 40, adult mortality is low and the rhinos slow reproductive rates reflect this trait. Breeding rhinos give birth to a single calf every two and a half to three years, so that the maximum rate of population growth is under 10% a year. When humans hunt the animals in numbers that exceed this threshold, which is often the case, populations are driven downwards. Hunters only care about the number of buyers on the rhino market and ignore the few number of rhinos trying to survive in the wild.
|A White Rhino at Rest
photo: Mike Matson, Mokolodi Nature Reserve
Rhinos are being forced into extinction due to the high demand of their horns in China and neighboring countries in the Far East. Horns are primarily bought for their use in traditional medicines and their aesthetic value in such forms as dagger handles-a symbol of masculinity in Yemen.
A rhino horn is simply a hollow structure formed by thickly matted hair follicles that grow from the head. The entire horn is composed of the protein keratin. Keratin, a very common protein, is found in hooves, fingernails and in the outer covering of cattle and antelope horns, yet only the rhino horn has healing powers associated with it.
The efficiency of the rhino horn as a drug is an invented myth, but the fact remains that rhino horns are a much sought after product, fetching prices as high as 3,000 dollars a horn.
Rhino horns are used to treat numerous ailments such as fevers, strokes, AIDS, epilepsy and many others. With many people holding on to the hope that a “rhino horn potion” will cure them of their illness, the demand for the product is constantly high. Rhinos are becoming rarer and the value of the horn rises as a result. Because of increasing prices on the black market, poaching becomes more aggressive and high prices also give entrepreneurs the incentive to pay peasant farmers a sum much higher than they could ever earn in an honest days work to hunt the animals.
|Two Rhinos Rest
photo: Mike Matson, Mokolodi Nature Reserve
Michael ‘T Sas-Rolfes, author of Rhinos: Conservation, Economics and Trade-Offs, states that “Most parks and wildlife agencies have insufficient funds to protect their rhino populations adequately; rural people in many countries are so poor they will risk their lives to poach rhinos for seemingly low rewards.”
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) stated that “between 1990 and 1992, at least 100,000 items of rhino products were recorded in trade with almost all of it exported from China. Trade record Analysis of Flora and Fauna in Commerce (TRAFFIC) estimates that up to 300kg of rhino horn, which accounts for around 100 African rhino deaths, are consumed in South Korea every year. Conservation agencies in Africa and Asia are fighting a losing battle.
In the late 1980′s and early 1990′s rhinos in Zimbabwe were dehorned in the hope that it would make them worthless to poachers. WildAid member Peter Knights explains that “dehorning strategies were unsuccessful. Individuals were usually snared rather than shot [especially in Africa],” and the rhino was caught regardless of whether there was a horn present or not. Also, “the rhino horns were generally sold for use in Chinese medicines, and it doesn’t matter if it is the whole horn or not since the horn is ground up anyway.” Another problem with this strategy, says Knights “is that hunters often kill animals just to raise the price of the horns on the black market”.
|Rhino Mother and Calf
Michael ‘T Sas-Rolfes claims that “ideally, most rhinos should be privately owned, and ranched to supply their horn and other products to market; this is the approach that is most likely to prevent them from becoming extinct in the wild.” This strategy has been implemented successfully with the southern White Rhino, which is now often described as the “African cow” in reference to its cattle like behavior and eating habits.
Other “strategies that have been successful so far are intense protection zones,” says Knights. “Rhinos are generally restricted to smaller reserves to make monitored and reinforcement easier and this [conservation effort] has reduced hunting dramatically.”
WildAid also campaigns to the public to increase awareness and reduce demand for rhino horn. This has also proven effective in reducing trade.
These magnificent creatures are on the brink of extinction but few people who purchase rhino horns realize it or don’t want to acknowledge this fact. Only when the demand for rhino horn ceases will rhinos have a chance for complete recovery.
Rhinos of Africa:
The African black rhino was formerly the most abundant species with a population of 60,000 in 1970. Yet widespread poaching and habitat destruction has reduced the population to 3,500 individuals, with various races of black rhino (such as the Cameroon Black Rhino) highly threatened. At a weight of nearly 1.3 tons (3,000 pounds), the adults are formidable animals and are rarely taken as prey in the wild. The drastic decline in numbers is entirely blamed on human influence.
|Black Rhino Grazing
All species of Black rhino are renowned for their aggressive charges at intruders, including vehicles. This defensive behavior, in addition to the bush areas it inhabits, deterred human hunters until recently. The White Rhino generally has a milder temperament and is more gregarious than other species. With adult males reaching weights of up to 2.3 tons (5,000 pounds), the White Rhino is also the largest of all rhinos. It is considered the third largest land-mammal alive today, only outweighed by the two species of elephant.
At the turn of the century, the southern White Rhino had been reduced to 50 animals, which all resided in the Umfolozi Reserve in South Africa. Under careful protection and conservation efforts, their numbers have steadily increased to about 8,400 individuals. The southern White Rhino has been successfully reintroduced to many areas where hunters had previously exterminated the species, such as in Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
The Northern White Rhino, another subspecies of White Rhino, is another story: It remained fairly abundant until the late 1960s, but has now been almost completely exterminated with only 20 animals confined to the Garamba National Park in northern Zaire. In 1984 15 individuals existed in the Democratic republic of Congo, this number increased to about 30 in the late 1990s and was considered a success story. Unfortunately the numbers have once again declined and conservation efforts are threatened by political conflicts and instability in the region. The only consolation in this case is that further losses have been halted with frequent monitoring of the few remaining individuals.
Rhinos of Asia:
The Sumatran rhinoceros (or “hairy rhinoceros”) is the only living representative of two-horned rhinos in Asia. It generally weighs in at 800 kilograms (1,750 pounds) and is sparsely covered in brownish hair. It occupies mountainous forests in Sumatra and other parts of Southeast Asia. 600 to 1000 Sumatran Rhinos lived during the 90′s. The 400 individuals that remain today are extremely vulnerable to both poaching and logging and are currently thinly scattered through Malaysia and neighboring countries.
The Indian rhino is one of the two one-horned rhinoceroses in Asia. It rivals the white rhino in size. A prominent characteristic of the species is its extremely thick skin that is arranged in plates along its body, similar to a suit of armor. Surviving Indian rhinos are protected in reserves in northeast India and Nepal. Fewer than 2,000 individuals presently exist.
The Javan rhino, another one-horned individual, occupies the lowland forests that remain in Southeast Asia. Little is known about this species, and there are no specimens in zoos. It is the rarest species alive today, with a total population of 70 individuals. All animals are confined to a single reserve at the western tip of Java.
- WildAid, www.WildAid.org
- TRAFFIC, www.traffic.org
- World Wildlife Fund, www.wwf.org
- International Rhino Foundation, www.rhinos-irf.org
- SOS Rhino, www.sosrhino.org
- World Wildlife Fund, www.wwf.org
- White Rhino Project, www.mokolodi.com/rhinos.htm
- Namibian Black Rhino Project, www.namibiarhinos.com
- Rhino Resource Center, www.rhinoresourcecenter.com
- Rhinos: Conservation, Economics and Trade-Offs
- Michael John ‘T Sas-Rolfes
- Institute of Economic Affairs 1995
- The Encyclopedia of Animals
- Gogger, Gould, Forshaw, McKay
- Fog City Press 2002