- The rhino is on the verge of extinction.
- On average, 3 rhinos are poached for their horn each day.
- There are 2 species with fewer than 80 animals left alive in the wild.
The most recent population numbers for all five rhino species:
- Javan rhino 67
- Sumatran rhino <80
- Black rhino Between 5,040 and 5,458
- Greater one-horned rhino 3,500+
- White rhino Between 19,666 and 21,085
When we visited the Matobo National Park, just outside Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, we were lucky enough to have as our guide a chap by the name of Ian Harmer. Ian’s family have lived in the Matabeleland in Zimbabwe since the 1890’s, and a more passionate guide you couldn’t meet.
His passions are saving the rhino, and the San people of Southern Africa.
As this article is about the rhino, well stick to that. Ian has some quite persuasive arguments about legalising trade in rhino horn, which is currently being blocked by western nations including the UK and the US. Trade in rhino horn is big business, and involves organised criminal gangs, and corruption (https://www.savetherhino.org/africa/a-spotlight-on-corruption/). It won’t stop until all the rhinos have gone.
One of our travelling buddies, Lena, actually recorded his speech, and has transcribed it in her blog. She has described his views much better than I can, so if you are interested in reading a bit more about his arguments, then I would urge you to read her post here: www.ticketfortwotravel.com
Just to try to summarise Ian’s view, he believes the species will be extinct in two years. It has got to the stage now where rhino in zoos and rhino heads and specimens in museums and private collections are being targeted by poachers as the price of rhino horn is so high. Even cutting off rhino horn has little effect as there is always a stump left, and this stump itself weighs 2kg which is worth $200,000 ($100,000 per kg). There is now a stockpile of rhino horn, mainly in South Africa, which is estimated to be able to supply the demand (largely from China and south east Asia) for at least 20 years.
In the park at Matobo, they have not lost a rhino for over two years, as the rangers there patrol constantly and operate a shoot to kill policy.
Ian strongly believed that the only way to save the species is to legalise trade in rhino horn, and to release the stockpile to the open market in a controlled way. As rhino horn regrows (it is made of keratin, the same material as fingernail, and regrows over a period of about 10 years), he also believes that ‘farming’ horn, cutting it off and letting it regrow, whilst not desirable is better than the alternative which is to lose the species completely. It is Western countries like the UK and the USA that tend to block this, and he called for people to lobby their CITES representative to vote to legalise the trade.
Doing this would actually make the rhino more valuable alive than dead, thus making it more desirable to save for the local population.
Save the Rhino article on legalising the trade: Save the Rhino
It certainly opened my eyes to the plight of this creature, and became even more real to me after I’d met them over the next couple of hours.
In the Matobo Park, we jump into the jeeps to find rhino as a small group have been located close by. After only a few minutes drive the two jeeps turn off the main road onto a dirt track, and a couple of minutes later stop. Ian briefs us on what to do. We have a 20 minute walk through the bush (turns out to be about 10) and were to walk in single file. When we get to the rhino, surprisingly, we do not need to be perfectly quiet. He tells us that we shouldn’t make any sudden movements, and to obey his instructions to move back slowly or stay still should the rhino face us or move in our direction. They are potentially dangerous creatures…!!!!
In single file we head off. Only a few minutes walking and we are brought to a halt, there’s a rhino in the grass dead ahead, probably 15 meters away. This is a young male, who is hanging around a female with a young calf and an older adolescent male. Being partially hidden in the grass, it’s difficult to get a clear view or photo of his head, but he keeps moving around which feels a little disconcerting. As does having armed rangers standing behind us. Is this to protect the rhino from poachers or us from the rhino?
Just behind the young male is a large bush, and behind that Ian tells us is the mother and the baby. The group splits into two to go to see them, and we wait behind for the first group to make their visit. After a few minutes we see them just behind the bush. They must be very close.
We hang around watching the young male for a few minutes, trying to get some good photos until the group return. (Somebody spots some dung on the path which turns out to be leopard dung, apparently due to the size and the fact that it contains lots of hair).
Now it’s our turn.
We follow Ian, skirting around the area where the rhino group are, and approach from behind. We walk up a small slope onto a rock and there they are. Probably about 5m away. The mum and adolescent are lying down facing away from us, after a second or two we see the baby partially hidden behind a bush to the right of them.
Everybody moves around trying to get to the best spot to take the best photos. Ian talks, we talk amongst ourselves. It’s incredible being so close to these huge wild animals. I think everyone is feeling quite safe and relaxed in their company.
Something disturbs them. Both mother and baby stand and turn to face us. They move incredibly quickly for such large creatures (apparently they can reach speeds of 55kph and get up to 30kph in 3 seconds). As it happens, Paarth and I are right in the front. It’s all a little blurred, but we retreat a little, then a voice (Ian’s?) quietly said stand still. We do, and there is a moment or two, that seem much longer, where I feel alone, standing face to face with these magnificent creatures. There was a moment when I thought they might charge at us, but they soon calm down, and eventually start to turn back and settle down again. Face to face with these guys at about 10 feet or so is an amazing experience. Eventually the baby goes back to the other side of its mother and starts, very briefly, to suckle.
All too soon we have to move away to rejoin the others.
Having been so close to these animals, I would hate to be part of the generation that can say “I saw one of the last rhinos in the wild”. Whatever the answer, we have to do something to save these, and other endangered species.
Please have a look at these links, and make your own minds up as to the right thing to do, and whatever it is, do it.
Don’t be the one to say to your grandchildren “I saw the last rhinos die out…”