Surge in Rhino Poaching

Rare daytime sighting of a black rhino in Etosha National Park, Namibia. Copyright Tim Lewthwaite.

2011  was a bad year for rhinos.  In October of 2011, the javan rhino was declared extinct on mainland Asia – the last female found dead with her horn removed.  According to the Mail & Guardian, a leading South African newspaper, at least 443 rhinos have been killed this year in South Africa - most in Kruger National Park – out of a total population of 20,000.  To put that number in perspective, the country was losing about 15 animals a year a decade ago.  It has now reached a level where the population will start to decline. 

It is hard not to read about rhinos these days.  A major feature in the November 2011 issue of Smithsonian magazine explored how police and conservationists in South Africa are combating this explosion in demand. Media in South Africa have reported that the country is considering the controvertial  idea of legalizing the trade in rhino horn in an effort to fight rampant poaching. 

Rhinos are suffering as a result of a growing demand for their horn in an expanding middle class in countries like Thailand and Vietnam.  The demand has pushed the price for their horn upwards of $65,000 per kilogram according to the Mail & Guardian – at prices like that, global crimminal syndicates get involved and people in range countries start to look to their short-term benefit at the expense of the rhinos’ long-term prospects. 

In a small bit of rhino good news, Disney’s Animal Kingdom reported that Nande, a white rhino born at Disney, had given birth to a healthy female calf at the Ziwa Sanctuary in Uganda.

Rhinos are only the tip of the iceberg.  In November of 2011, the IUCN released its latest Red List , which indicated that 25 percent of the world’s mammals are now threatened with extinction. 

My resolution for the new year?  To stay informed about the threats that are facing our natural heritage, to help where I can, and to support organizations like AZA zoos and aquariums that are working towards saving wildlife and wild places.

Tim Lewthwaite

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