World Rhino Day: Facts you should know

BY TAI CHISHAKWE - SEPTEMBER 22, 2014

Today, on World Rhino Day, is a time for you and I to really think about what we are doing to protect the Rhino from ruthless poachers, international criminal gangs and syndicates bent on wiping out these magnificent animals - before it's too late.

This year alone, rhino poachers have killed around 769 animals according to statistics released by the Department of Environmental Affairs on 12 September.

Around 12 rhinos have been killed by poachers in the Eastern Cape alone – although no arrests have been made.

Once abundant

Records show that around 500 000 rhinos once roamed the jungles of Africa and Asia in the early twentieth century. Despite intensive conservation efforts, the numbers fell to 70 000 by 1970 and to just 29 000 in the wild today.

In 2011, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared the Western black rhino. In fact all five remaining rhino species are on the IUCN Redlist of threatened species, with three out of the five species classified as critically endangered.

South Africa

South Africa is home to 83% of Africa’s rhinos and 73% of all wild rhinos worldwide. The county is then important in efforts to conserve the remaining rhinos.

Senseless slaughter

Large-scale poaching of the now critically endangered black rhino resulted in a dramatic 96% decline from 65 000 individuals in 1970 to just 2 300 in 1993. In 2013, poachers broke records by slaughtering more than 1 000 rhinos just in South Africa, and 2014 is on track to be even worse – up from around 668 in 2012. Rhino poaching has reached a crisis point, and if the killing continues at this rate, we could see rhino deaths overtaking births in 2016-2018.

A global problem

Poaching is not a South African problem, African countries are also struggling to contain the surge in crimes and so are Asian counties with their smaller rhino populations. For example, in early August 2013, Kenya reported that it had lost 34 rhinos to poaching since the start of the year.

Crime syndicates

The current poaching crisis is attributed to a growing demand for rhino horn in Asian countries -mainly China and Vietnam, where horn is believed to have medicinal properties. The high price fetched for the horn - rhino horn can sell illegally on the black market for US$60 000 a kilogram, has attracted the involvement of ruthless criminal syndicates who use high-tech equipment to track down and kill the rhinos.

Globalisation and economic growth has also made it easier to establish illegal rhino horn trading routes.

There is hope

Persistent efforts to curb poaching and conservation programmes have resulted in the black Rhino making a comeback to a current population of 5 055.

High profile Arrests and penalties for rhino poaching are increasing and becoming frequent. According to the department of Environmental Affairs, more than 227 people have been arrested countrywide for rhino poaching this year alone.

While law enforcement, arrests and hefty penalties play a crucial role in deterring would-be poachers, it’s not the complete answer. There is indeed a need to involve communities – those living around game reserves and national parks as well those in Asia who still believe rhino horn has medicinal properties and thereby fuelling demand. 

Statistics   

Population figures are according to numbers published 31 December by the IUCN for African rhino species and results of a 2012 / 2013 census for Asian rhino populations.

White rhino population figures

Subspecies

Population

Southern white
Ceratotherium simum simum

20,405

Northern white
Ceratotherium simum cottoni

4

Black rhino population figures

Subspecies

Population

Eastern
Diceros bicornis michaeli

799

South Western
Diceros bicornis bicornis

1,957

South central
Diceros bicornis minor

2,299

Total

5,055

Asian rhino population figures

Greater one-horned

Sumatran

Javan

3,333

<100

35-45