Despite being one of our most popular species of megafauna, rhino populations are in a perilous position. 2014 was a record breaking year for rhino poaching, with 1,215 rhinos illegally killed in South Africa equating to one rhino every eight hours dying for its horn. This is a 21% increase from 2013, which saw 1,004 rhinos killed. Despite being highly inhumane, this level of poaching is not sustainable and could cause the extinction of South Africas rhino population within a matter of decades.
The statistics speak for themselves. After both black and white rhino populations being devastated during the 70’s and 80’s, both populations had started to recover when suddenly in 2008 the poaching level shot up from 13 to 83 rhinos. Since then the poaching level has been on a shocking and dramatic increase fuelled by crime syndicates added the illegal sale of rhino horn into their profit margins.
Powdered rhino horn is supposed to have medicinal effects which can cure a range of ailments, despite the fact that it is made solely of keratin and consuming powdered fingernails would undoubtedly have a similar affect. It is believed that Vietnam became one of the main importers after rumours surrounded a Vietnamese official who used rhino horn to cure his cancer. Amidst these rumours of medical benefits, is the rising wealth of Eastern Asia and the increase of their elite classes mixed with globalisation making it far easier to create illegal trade routes. All of this has led to a surge in the price of rhino horn, which is now equivalent to the street price of cocaine. These high prices have garnered the interest of criminal syndicates who employ the use of high-tech equipment in their quest for a profit, making it harder to prevent poaching as well as to catch those responsible.
It might seem like the underfunded conservation groups might be fighting a losing battle when put up against multi-million criminal syndicates.However the number of rhino related arrests has been on the rise with 386 arrests made in 2014, nearly double the amount arrested in 2014. Although law enforcement is playing a larger role within the protection of rhinos, it is not the sole way to prevent poaching, instead a multi-faceted approach is being undertaken by groups such as Save the Rhino which involve education and community conservation as well as monitoring and patrols.
Last year The Strength of Chi campaign was launched to target the growing consumption of rhino horn in Vietnam. Aimed at creating a major change in behaviour amongst potential consumers of rhino horn, the campaign promoted the idea that success and masculinity come from an individuals internal character not from a piece of horn. Similar campaigns proved successful in Taiwan in the 70’s and 80’s.
There is no sure fire way of preventing the rhino from being poached into extinction. Without the collaboration of the international community however there may be little hope, as the world becomes smaller through globalisation it becomes easier for illegally traded animal parts to disappear along with those who smuggled them. It is hoped the wide variety of measures currently being put in place will help to ease the flow of losses if not discourage it altogether, meanwhile the international community must make 2015 the year they step up to fight illegal wildlife crime or we risk losing some of our magnificent species altogether.
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