By A.J. Higginson
With a long chequered past and an uncertain future, some 60 million years of evolution, the African rhino is under the very real threat of extinction.
The second largest mammal, these intimidating yet appealing creatures have become a symbol for wildlife conservation.
I have never forgotten my first encounter with a living dinosaur. Face to face, the startling horn, a living tank and colossal beauty blocked our entrance to the game reserve. Satisfying his curiosity, he turned his huge, bulky frame and trotted away with remarkable grace and speed. A thrill to witness...
It wasn't so long ago that the black and white rhinos roamed the savannahs in their hundreds and thousands. But loss of habitat, and more shockingly, poaching for their horns, have seen numbers fall dramatically.
This alarming escalation in poaching is of grave concern to conservationists. Nearly half of these deaths have involved the critically endangered black rhino - the rarer of the two African species.
It is only after witnessing these animals in their own environment that you begin to realise just how extraordinary rhinos really are. They vary in character with the black rhino, in general, being the shyer of the two. The white rhino appears to be more sociable and significantly bigger in size ( a black male weighs approximately 1300kg, with the white male tipping the scales at 2250kg.)
Attacks on the rhinos have become highly organised and wide-spread, leaving the conservation agencies and welfare groups struggling to respond to such complex operations. Gone are the days of using snares to acquire bushmeat, tranquilliser darts and guns are regularly employed for poaching horn.
The illegal slaughter of these majestic beasts has caused outrage globally - and rightly so. Animals are being lost on an almost daily basis. In 2013 there have been in excess of 273 rhino slayings in South Africa alone. More....