September 22nd is Rhino Day – a day to highlight the threat this magnificent species is facing from poachers prepared to hunt down grown animals, hack off their horns and sell them to a market, based mostly in East Asia, which peddles powdered rhino horn as a “traditional medicine” and as an aphrodisiac at astronomical prices.
I’ve written about the scourge of rhino poaching in South Africa, the country that is home to the vast majority of the world’s remaining wild rhino population, before. Since January, poachers have butchered more than 280 rhinos in the country and the battle to defend both black and white rhinos in national parks and private game reserves continues.
In August, several rhinos, including a pregnant animal, were poached and dehorned on game farms in Limpopo Province. In the same month, one man was shot dead and six others arrested when police foiled two attempts at rhino poaching in the same part of the country. In September a dead rhino and one darted one were discovered in a municipal game reserve, again in Limpopo.
But it’s not all just doom and gloom:
• The South African government is spending millions on anti-poaching measures.
• At the end of August, Edna Molewa, South Africa’s Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, announced that her government is considering a moratorium on all legal rhino hunting. Every year, more than 100 rhino hunting permits are officially sold to trophy hunters (about 143 in 2011 and 129 in 2010), but, says Molewa, “unscrupulous individuals” are abusing the system. “Illegal hunting and the abuse of the permit system may be the main threats that could impact on the survival of rhino in the wild in the near future,” she explained. Somewhat predictably, the Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa disagreed, expressing the opinion that a moratorium could, in fact, lead to an increase in poaching.
• Molewa also suggested that the government is considering the possibility of de-horning living rhinos to make them unattractive to poachers. She emphasized that this would only become an option after consultation with veterinarians and other experts about possible detrimental effects or behavioral changes in the animals as a result of de-horning.
• This month, a man suspected of leading a major rhino horn trafficking syndicate appeared before a Johannesburg magistrate’s court and was refused bail.
• In recent months, there has been a definite increase in awareness among the general South African public with regards to the rhino poaching epidemic and the local media has been reporting on the issue more frequently.
In addition, some South African companies have started getting in on the rhino conservation act. The advertising agency Ogilvy Cape Town, for example, is working with the Wilderness Foundation on its Save The Rhino campaign.
The local retail company Woolworths is raising funds for rhino conservation by selling reusable “rhino” shopping bags, produced by an enterprise development project called Isikhwama. So far Woolworths customers have contributed over R700 000 ($100,000) to the cause by purchasing these bags.
This touching short film produced for Woolworths by Green Renaissance describes the project and captures the moment when the manager of Isikhwama came face-to-face with a rhino in the wild for the first.
Let’s hope that the tide is turning and the brutal slaughter of the world’s remaining rhino population can be stopped before it’s too late. On Rhino Day, and on every other day of the year, why don’t you make it your mission to inform others around you about the threat that is facing these beautiful animals?
Andreas is a book shop manager and freelance writer in Cape Town, South Africa. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath
Photo from: Stock.Xchng