By Johnny Duggan
The African Rhino has eased back from the precipice of extinction once before (the African White Rhino once saw its numbers dwindle to just fifty living in the wild), but newly redoubled efforts by poaching syndicates are pushing the South African rhino population back to the brink.
As of September, more than 700 rhinos have been killed in the wild this year, slain for their highly sought-after horn. Up from 668 for the entirety of 2012, this upturn in poaching, if continued unabated, could spell the end of wild African rhinos over the next decade.
The rhino has long suffered the shells of poachers due to both traditional and contemporary demands for its horn. Made of keratin (the same substance comprising human fingernails), rhinoceros horn has long been a snake oil of sorts, used for everything from curing rheumatism to performing exorcisms. Despite drastic measures to reduce poaching and repopulate the species, an ever-desiring market has caused the value of rhinoceros horn to skyrocket, with prices exceeding $60k a kilo. With that demand comes increasingly aggressive efforts by syndicates, who are known to capitalize on the poverty of nearby communities when recruiting poachers. Much of the recently surging demand is due to a rumor of rhino horn curing a Vietnamese minister’s relative of cancer, but among wealthy Vietnamese, it’s also prized as a trendy hangover cure.
In order to combat the increased poaching, national park services have employed drone patrols, and are using helicopters to deploy units of armed rangers at the first sight of poachers. But the battle must be fought on the civilian front as well. The African Environmental Affairs Agency has begun a global campaign to mitigate the illegal exportation to countries like Thailand and Vietnam, who are the heaviest consumers of the horns. Educating an uninformed population is also vital, as the knowledge that there are no actual medicinal benefits could help reduce the market. More....