NOTE: This is a guest post from our friends at the African Wildlife Foundation.
Demand for rhino horns and their believed medicinal qualities has steadily increased over the past few years, due to a growing middle class in China, Vietnam and other Asian countries. According to current projections, about 250 million new wealthy “middle class” Chinese consumers will enter the market over the next 10 to 15 years. As the buying power of these Asian economies has burgeoned, so, too, has rhino poaching. As of early June, 227 rhinos have been poached. That averages to almost two a day!
What, then, fuels this new demand, thereby pushing the remaining rhino population to the brink of extinction?
In Asia, it is believed that rhino horn, when ground down to a fine powder, can do everything from curing cancer to alleviating hangovers. Just like bear bile and tiger claws, rhino horn medicine is rooted in traditional beliefs, and its followers often aren’t aware of the damage they are doing. Or if they do know, many of them choose to accept or ignore it. Add this to the fact that the Asian middle class is expanding at exponential rates and is willing to pay the price for horn, and you have a recipe for disaster for the rhino.
That is why action must be taken not only in Africa, where the poaching is occuring, but in Asia, where demand for the rhino horn is fueling the poaching. In May, the African Wildlife Foundation entered into a partnership with WildAid to break down the culturally held myths about the horn’s medicinal qualities and educate people on how rhino horn is being procured illegally by killing rhinos. The two organizations will conduct a public awareness campaign aimed at dismantling the black market demand for rhino horns. These public service announcements will use any number of media, from television, to billboards, to Facebook, to Twitter.
The public awareness campaign in Asia is just one step of many needed to save the rhino, a species that could be extinct by 2025 if current trends continue unabated. Poachers are truly the villains of this piece, but it also falls to those who are fueling the demand to see the true damage they support. Proper education and outreach has the opportunity to reverse this downward spiral and the ignorance that encourages its expansion. Because the rhino crisis doesn’t end in Africa. It has global players with global repercussions.
Photo from ThinkStockPhotos