The Black Rhino: Fighting A Way Back From The Brink Of Extinction

December 29, 2014 admin Blog

The black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis, also known as the hook-lipped rhinoceros) is indigenous to central and eastern Africa.  Adult males stand as tall as 1.8 metres high at the shoulder, reaching lengths of almost 4.5 metres, nose to tail-tip, and attaining ­­­­weights in excess of three tonnes.  Despite its formidable size, the black rhino is a herbivorous browser, existing on a diet of leaves and branches, thorny bushes, shoots and fruit.

In the early 20th century, it is estimated that there were as many as several hundred thousand black rhinos in Africa.  By 2004, however, records showed only 2,410 remaining.  Thanks to charitable bodies such as the International Rhino Foundation, the total number of recorded black rhinos had risen to 4,240 by 2008.

Tunde Folawiyo

There are numerous threats faced by the black rhino today, including illegal poaching, competing species and habitat changes.  The horn of the black rhino is greatly prized in Chinese medicine, reaching prices nearing $30,000 per pound – a major factor in driving the species towards extinction.

Nigerian entrepreneur and philanthropist Tunde Folawiyo is a keen patron of African conservation.  Born in 1960 in Lagos, Nigeria, Mr Folawiyo went on to graduate from the London School of Economics as a Bachelor of Science in 1980, specialising in industry and trade.  In 1985, Tunde Folawiyo was called to the Bar of England and Wales.  Returning to Africa, Mr Folawiyo set up Yinka Folawiyo, a conglomerate of companies with an emphasis on pioneering the energy industry.  Mr Folawiyo became an Ambassador and Honorary Citizen of the city of Houston in 1993, and he is a Fellow of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards’ World Fellowship scheme. In March 2010, Tunde Folawiyo was honoured with the African Leadership Award.  Find Tunde Folawiyo on YouTube to discover more.

The black rhino, like the white rhino, isn’t actually named after its colour.  The two are different not in hue, but in the shape of their lips.  The black rhino’s lips are pointed, earning him the ‘hook-lipped’ nickname; his mouth is adapted to searching out fruit among thorns.  The white rhino’s square lips are particularly suited to grazing on grass; he keeps his head close to the ground.

Bar females and their offspring, the black rhino is a solitary creature.  Mothers raise their young until around three years.  The black rhino feeds at night, concentrating his efforts during the hours of dawn and dusk, tending to sleep during the daytime, seeking out shade – well out of the way of the harsh African midday sun.  On the whole, black rhinos love water, and are occasionally sighted at water holes.  Because of the black rhino’s acute hearing and keen sense of smell, relatively few people are afforded the opportunity to witness the habits of this magnificent creature first-hand.  They tend to be very elusive.

Black rhinos boast two horns, with the front horn the most prominent.  Rhino horns can grow by as much as three inches per year, and adult males have been recorded with tusks measuring over 1.5 metres long.

It is that very horn which is the black rhino’s downfall.  The horn of the black rhino is highly sought after in Chinese medicine, and revered in countries such as Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong.  Black rhino horns are also prized in the Middle East and North Africa in the making of ornamental dagger handles.  In Chinese medicine the creature is linked to the mythical unicorn and associated with the wonderful powers the creature was believed to possess.

In fables, the horn of a unicorn has magical powers and is capable of curing a wide range of afflictions – from gout and fever to snake bites and typhoid, rheumatism to vomiting, even devil possession.  In Vietnam, the horn of the black rhino is said to be a cure for cancer.  None of this, naturally, has any scientific foundation, but black rhino poaching continues to be a very lucrative industry.

Rhino horn has been tested and found to have zero medicinal properties.  The horn of the black rhino isn’t mystical.  It is composed of keratin – the same substance found in hair, hooves and nails.

The poaching trade is not only detrimental to the black rhino, but also to the sick and afflicted people who part with hard-earned cash in the hope of finding a cure to their ailments.  Rhino horn is widely accepted as being completely ineffective in modern medicine, giving sufferers false hope, when they would almost certainly fare better going down tried and tested medicinal routes.

The good news for those passionate about African conservation, such as Tunde Folawiyo, is that we appear to be turning a corner.  Even the most hardline rhino horn medicinal advocates appear to accept (prolifically available) buffalo horn as a substitute.  The Chinese Ministry of Health removed rhino horn from its medical encyclopaedia in 1993, and the trade is banned in almost all Western countries.

In 1997, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) started the African Rhino Programme.  As part of the project, the WWF’s ongoing work includes establishing new protected habitats; expanding existing protected areas and improving their security; lobbying local and international governments to stop the sale of rhino horn; and promoting wildlife-based tourism experiences to raise funds and spread awareness.  Today there are over 5,000 black rhinos across the world, with 2,599 living in the wild.  Their numbers have doubled since 2004, and with the help of the WWF, the black rhino may yet be pulled back from the brink of extinction.

Black Rhinowildlife conservation

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