The Rhino Species
The Rhino, officially Rhinoceros, is one of the six surviving species of odd-toed ungulates in the family Rhinocerotidae of the Perissodactyla. The Black Rhino and the White Rhino are native to Africa, while the Indian Rhino, Sumatran Rhino and the Javan Rhino occur in Asia.
By the early 1900’s, the white rhino was the most endangered of the world’s five rhinoceros species, due to extensive and uncontrolled hunting – the prize – their horns, which were used for traditional Chinese medicines in the Far East and in the Middle East for dagger handles, mostly in Oman and Yemen. Less than 20 rhinos remained in a single reserve in South Africa. Through extraordinary efforts and by deploying groundbreaking conservation models, the white rhino numbers recovered to approximately 22,000 by 2008, making it the most common species on the planet.
Today, South Africa is home to 95% of the world’s two African rhino species, namely the white rhino and the black rhino, with current estimated numbers of 22,000 and 4,800 respectively. However, over the past four years, South Africa has experienced a dramatic increase in the number of rhinos poached for their horns, with 2010 and 2011 showing an alarming rise. By the end of 2011, no fewer than 448 rhinos were illegally killed.
Threat of Extinction
The threat of extinction facing the rhino is a desperately real prospect, if something significant is not done to effectively counter poaching. Considering the upward trend in the number of poaching incidents since 2009, statistically it is estimated that approximately 660 rhinos will have been killed by the end of 2012. Should this increased trend continue, these animals will be poached into extinction as soon as the year 2025.
The official announcement of the last Javan rhino killed in Vietnam was made on 25 October 2011, followed by the reported extinction of the West African Black Rhino, a sub-species of the southern African Black Rhino, on 10 November 2011. This paints a grim picture of the future of rhino worldwide and substantiates the threat of this irreplaceable member of Africa’s Big Five disappearing forever from the face of the Earth.
Underlying this crisis is the demand for rhino horn fed by Far Eastern medicine and its ingrained belief in the mythical properties of rhino horn, which has recently expanded to fabled claims that it cures cancer. Given the centuries-old nature of this belief system, education is essential, but time is required to bring understanding. In the interim, due to the fact that rhino horn regrows at a rate of 8-10cm each year and can be harvested without harming the rhino, we recognise the potential for ethical, legal trade in rhino horn to counter poaching, provided that such trade can be managed in an accountable, effective way.
For our part, the Rhino Survival Trust proposes a far-reaching, sustainable solution. Central to this is the establishment of a rhino wildlife sanctuary and long term intensive breeding program in order to assist in preserving the rhino gene pool and increasing their population to the point of relocating them to approved areas where their numbers have been depleted. In addition to conservation, rhino relocation, as well as rhino and other species breeding programs, our win-win solution encompasses rhino research, education, creation of employment, community upliftment and eco-tourism. It even extends to conserve indigenous biodiversity and contribute towards combatting climate change.