There’s a battle going on in South Africa. And though it may not have the human body count of, say, Syria, this struggle is just as bloody. At the center of the fight is wildlife, as a rapid rise in Elephant and Rhino Poaching finds these animals being killed for their tusks and horns at increasingly alarming rates.
According to the South Africa Department of Environmental Affairs, Rhino poaching stats have risen by more than 300% in the last four years. The country is home to an estimated 19,700 Rhinos, which is about 80 per cent of the total world population. In 2015 there were 1,175 Rhinos poached in the country, which is a shockingly steep climb from the mere 13 that were killed back in 2007.
Edna Molewa, the minister of South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs, announced the latest statistics in January and remarked that they were an improvement over the 1215 Rhinos that were killed in 2014. But poaching in Kruger National Park, which is home to around 9,000 Rhinos, has been steadily on the rise in recent years.
Here, we’ll look at why Rhino poaching has been so sharply on the rise, what’s being done to stop it, and how wildlife lovers and responsible travelers can help turn the tides of Rhino conservation…
The Root of the Rhino Poaching Problem
Both species of South African Rhinos– White Rhinos and the more critically endangered Black Rhinos– are being poached at record rates because their horns are currently worth up to $45,000 a pound. International trade in rhino horns has been banned since 1977, but immoral smugglers looking for a quick payday can easily sell the horns on the black market in Vietnam, China, and elsewhere in Asia.
So what is fueling this insatiable demand for Rhino horn? It’s mostly caused by lies purporting their various healing and aphrodisiac properties to the traditional Asian medicinal market.
Although there’s not a single scientific study to back up the claims that Rhino horn (which is made of simple keratin, the same substance found in human hair and fingernails) can cure everything from cancer to impotence, these remarkable creatures continue to be killed at an alarming rate.
There are estimated to be around 20,000 Southern White Rhinos left in the wild, and just 5,000 Black Rhinos. At current Rhino poaching levels, many conservation experts have suggested that South Africa’s remaining Rhino population could join the Vietnamese Rhino and the Western Black Rhinoceros on the extinction list within the next 20-30 years.
NGOs Devoted to Rhino Conservation
The good news for Rhinos is that they have one of the most outspoken and politically active advocacy networks within the wildlife conservation community.
There are many different non-profit organizations that are highly active in Rhino research and raising awareness and funds for Rhino conservation, including Save The Rhino, Saving Rhinos, World Wildlife Fund, and the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. From armed protection to education and relocation, numerous different approaches are being tested to counter the rise Rhino poaching.
On the ground, South Africa has been stepping up its war against poaching considerably in the last few years. Armed rangers in Kruger National Park have been authorized to shoot poachers on sight. According to National Geographic, Minister Edna Molewa said that 202 poachers were arrested in the park last year, and another 115 were arrested just outside it.
After letting one of Africa’s legendary Big 5 species teeter dangerously near the brink of extinction, officials finally seem to be treating the Rhino Poaching situation with the severity it merits. Hopefully, with the help of captive breeding programs and private game reserves, there’s still time to turn the Rhino conservation situation around.
Hands-On Help For Rhinos
As part of Discover Corps’ new Wildlife Conservation Experience in South Africa, volunteer travelers will now have a chance to work hands-on with Rhinos at Care For Wild Africa, a world-renowned wildlife rehabilitation facility located in Mpumulanga.
The organization was founded by Petronel Niewoudt, a former captain in the South Africa police force’s Endangered Species Protection Unit. After 10 years of running her own Game Capture School, Niewoudt decided to devote her efforts to the rescue of and care for orphaned, abandoned, injured, and displaced animals; rehabilitating them with the help of veterinary doctors and volunteers; and releasing them back into the wild whenever possible.
Care For Wild Africa was made famous last summer, during a visit by British Royal Prince Harry. Along with his brother Prince William, Harry has become an increasingly outspoken advocate for wildlife conservation over the past few years. Photos of him posing with Niewoudt and two baby Rhinos, as well as one of him next to a slaughtered Rhino’s carcass, made international headlines and drew much-needed attention to Rhino conservation cause.
Discover Corps volunteers who visit the facility will have an opportunity to spend time with Care For Wild Africa’s experienced team and get a rare opportunity to work closely with orphaned rhinos and care for a variety of other wildlife species.
In the process, they’ll learn all about these beautiful creatures and the Rhino poaching challenges currently facing South Africa. And hopefully they’ll take their knowledge, treasured memories and photos of their once-in-a-lifetime experience home and share them with others, helping to spread the message about the importance of Rhino conservation. –Bret Love
BIO: Bret Love is a journalist/editor with 23 years of print and online experience, whose clients have ranged from the Atlanta Journal Constitution and American Airlines to National Geographic and Yahoo Travel. He is the co-founder of ecotourism website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media.