By Wayne Pacelle
Last week, Humane Society International and the government of Vietnam announced the launch of a joint project over the next three years to educate the public in Vietnam – the main rhino horn-consuming country, according to international authorities – about the need to protect rhinos in their range nations and to reduce demand in this Asian nation. The announcement was made at a meeting in Hanoi that was attended by more than 100 participants from the Vietnam government, non-governmental organizations, scientists, and the press. Rhino horn is used to treat a variety of ailments and to flaunt wealth, with some people even giving it away as a gift.
This action comes in response to a rhino poaching crisis unlike anything the world has ever seen before. Every day, poachers kill two or three more rhinos for their horns. If this rate of killing continues, there will be no more rhinos in the wild in just a few years.
In South Africa, which has more rhinos than any other country, the toll just this year is more than 580 rhinos killed. Poachers shoot the rhino, then hack off the rhino's face to get every little bit of horn. They are also known to immobilize the animals with veterinary drugs instead of killing them outright. In those cases, if the rhino doesn’t die from blood loss, she wakes up once the drugs wear off in excruciating pain. Some kind-hearted South African vets have managed to help a few of these individuals recover, and they are living – though mutilated – symbols of greed and cruelty.
African wildlife rangers are doing all they can to protect rhinos, and many have given their own lives in armed confrontations with rhino poachers. But the reality is that they are fighting an unyielding, uphill battle. As long as people pay huge sums of money for rhino horn, the poachers will find the least protected rhinos and kill them for their horns, or they may overpower law enforcement authorities tasked with protecting them.
We’ve got to fight the poachers on the ground, and to fight demand in the consuming countries. Unless we do both, there will be no future for animals who look both majestic and prehistoric, and whom we have a moral obligation to preserve.