Rhino Poaching Continues In Shameful Numbers
A Sad Tale
The numbers are staggering. In 1900 there were an estimated 500,000 rhinos on Earth. By 1970 that number had dropped to 70,000. Today there are no more than 29,000 of these magnificent creatures remaining, and despite international protection as an endangered species, the number continues to fall.
There are five rhino species on this planet and their current numbers are as follows:
· White Rhino….20,165
· Black Rhino….. 4,880
· Asian Rhino……2,850
Before we begin our discussion about the depletion of the rhino, let us first describe this animal and look at its natural habitat.
Officially belonging to the family Rhinocerotidae, the Rhino is characterized by their large size and their herbivorous diet. They will regularly grow to one ton or more, and they are protected by a rather thick skin formed by layers of collagen.
They have a relatively small brain and will survive on a diet of leafy materials primarily, although their hindgut allows them to ferment more fibrous plantlife if necessary.
They are valued for their horns, which are not ivory as many believe, but rather a form of keratin, which is the same type of protein found in hair and fingernails. The African and Sumatran Rhinos have two horns while the Indian and Javan Rhinos have one.
The black rhino and white rhino live in the southern and eastern section of Africa. The white can be found primarily on the savannahs where tall grasses provide the bulk of their diet. The black rhinos live more in tropical bushlands, but some can be found near savannahs as well.
The Indian rhinos are found along the floodplains of rivers that have grasslands, and the majority of them now are located in Northern India and Nepal. The Sumatran rhino favors rainforests but is also found in dense forests at higher elevations, and the Javan rhino, almost completely gone, can only be found at Indonesia’s Ujung Kulon National Park.
All rhinos must be near a water source; the black rhino is most in need of water and will never roam more than an easy walking distance from water.
Why Are They Being Killed?
Vietnam, China and money are the reasons for the disappearance of these creatures. The people of Vietnam and China believe that the horn of the rhino has great restorative powers when used as a medicine. It is believed that the horn, when ground up and mixed with water or alcohol, is a remedy for many ailments including a hangover and cancer; it is also considered a great general health tonic that enhances longer life.
As recently as 2007, rhinos were relatively safe, as international law made it illegal to hunt these animals. Unfortunately, at about that time restrictions greatly hindered black market profiteers who were making millions of dollars on the sale of elephant tusks. When that supply of illegal funds dried up, the profiteers turned their attention to the rhinoceros. In effect, because there are a limited number of officials who can protect wild animals, one species was protected and another sacrificed.
In 2007 only 13 rhinos were poached. That number increased in 2011 to 448 and so far in 2012 there have been 515 rhinos poached.
A well-established black market pipeline is now functioning smoothly, and it includes drugs, diamonds, rhino horns, andhuman trafficking, all being shipped between Africa, Vietnam and other Asian nations. Recently Hong Kong officials seized 33 rhino horns and hundreds of ivory products, all worth $2 million.
The price of rhino horns is now at $63,375 per kilogram, more than the price of gold.
So what is happening? Why is China now a major player in this smuggling ring?
Many consider it a natural by-product of the increase in Chinese nationals now living and working in Kenya. The other factor, and most likely the major reason for this increase in smuggling, is that China has become the largest trading partner in South Africa. In 2009 China invested $1.1 billion in the sub-Saharan countries and that figure continues to increase. China has, in fact, become the new colonizer in Africa, and their influence cannot be ignored when speaking about matters such as poaching.
What Happens Next?
The rhino has become somewhat of a political football as nations try to convince China and Vietnam that this poaching must stop. Still, when billions of dollars are at stake, and when organized crime is involved, the political process will undoubtedly be a very slow process indeed. It must also be noted that when countries attempt to tell China what to do, rarely are those demands met with favorable results. Diplomacy appears to be the only logical route at this time.
In the meantime, the rhino numbers are diminishing at an alarming rate, and fortunes continue to be made. One can only hope that the rhinos can survive long enough for man to do the right thing.
2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)