The Obliteration of the Rhino
11th Apr 2015
It's not looking good for the rhino. Travel through southeastern Africa today and you’ll hear tales of opportunity lost and peril in the air, as poaching and deforestation march hand in hand across the land. At the centre of the most urgent and depressing fight on the continent is the African rhino, which is moving rapidly down the road toward extinction despite international efforts to slow their decline in numbers. The reason? Big Poaching - well funded, organized entities determined to kill at all costs.
In this day and age, it feels redundant to be talking about why we should save the rhino: over 96% of the population has been eliminated in the last 50 years. Rhinos represent the heart of Africa, but they also exist in India, Indonesia and parts of southeast Asia - where they are all but extinct.
Everyone says these great animals should be saved, but not enough is being done to kill demand for their horn, and that demand is driving a burgeoning, sophisticated slaughter across the continent. There are even some who want to see the last rhinos exterminated, their valuable keratin horns stolen and ground into rheumetic powders for sale at hundreds of dollars to the ounce. It is the horn of the rhino driving poaching across the region, and it is the Chinese and Vietnamese who are demanding that horn at unprecedented levels, driving up prices to values that exceed even gold and platinum.
Worthy organisations like TUSK , Save the Rhino and the International Rhino Foundation face an uphill battle in protecting the rhino from poachers, even with growing funding and technology applications at their disposal. Across South Africa, billboards urge consumers to donate to conservation projects to save the species. Game reserves, which make their living off the living, work to try and protect the animals on their game parks, employing rangers and electric fences, GPS tracking and even drones to help monitor the remaining populations - not just of rhinos but elephants, leopards, lion and other wildlife.
But a ranger being paid a good salary is little match for a poacher offered a great bounty, night vision goggles and a semi-automatic.
With hundreds of kilometres of unmanned borders and rural areas, full monitoring is impossible. Worse, some rangers are presented a Sophie’s Choice: once poachers know what they do, their families may be threatened if they don’t reveal where targets are. Other rangers simply find the money too good to pass up - about R15,000 Rand ($1500) in South Africa can exceed a man's yearly salary for just one rhino horn.
The full economics make this obliteration more and more likely - with R5,000 - 10,000 charged along every step of the way: for locating a target, for the kill, for transporting it, for delivering it to a smuggler… the rhino horn supply chain inflates the value of a horn to up to $30,000 USD. On the other side are buyers willing to pay that amount and more.
Near the South African border to Mozambique, where rhinos remain in very few numbers, game wardens talk of stories from locals and those poachers whom they haven't shot on sight. Surging demand from Asia is pushing poaching to record numbers - with over 1,000 animals lost in 2014 alone. With a population of 15,000 total, that is a precarious number - meaning they could be largely gone by as soon as 2020 or 2025. Previously, the game reserves and those national parks inside the borders of South Africa were considered safe from intrusion. Today, this is no longer true.
The evidence is apparent in Maputo, Mozambique, where Chinese investment has transformed the local economy and created a devastating demand for horns, which are easily available in the city's central markets, available for even the casual Chinese expat worker to pick up on their way out.
To make matters worse, evidence is growing that the bounties on rhinos are for more than just their horn, which an animal can occasionally survive losing. This year, game rangers began finding scorers of rhinos shot dead - horn or not - and left to rot. The rumour is that there’s a specific "businessman" (of unknown origin and location) trying to corner the market on all those rhino horns by making sure there are no more rhinos left, period.
They believe a fatwa has been issued, and certain thieves are trying to destroy the rhino population entirely. With the secreted stockpiles of poached horns growing every larger, a rhino extinction would drive the value of those stores far higher, providing a perverse motive for the destruction of these animals by a few who stand to profit greatly by their demise.
Has a fatwa really been issued on the rhino? Even if not that extreme, the arc of progression is grim and growing worse by the week.
To combat the situation, the economics need to change. More funding for organizations doing work to protect animals will help, but international pressure needs to increase greatly at the source of supply - and that means convincing China, Vietnam and other Asian markets that saving the rhino must be a priority.
Shaming needs to happen as well: what poachers and their funders deserve is an old-fashioned name & shame campaign - where they are publicly brought to light for their role in any point of the supply chain. Not to mention prosecutions - however difficult that may be.
To help, consider donating some Ven to Hub Culture's TUSK fund project or make a direct donation to TUSK or Save the Rhino. With Ven, 100% of all proceeds go to TUSK.org's important on the ground work to save rhinos and elephants in Africa.