From the Brink of Extinction: Africa’s White Rhino

March 7, 2015 admin Blog

Once upon a time, 50 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed free and men lived in caves, there thrived a species of creature which is endangered today. Africa’s white rhinoceros.

The poaching trade in modern day Africa operates at a new level; one that is comparable to arms dealing or drug smuggling. With ever-increasing prices on the Chinese medicine market; paltry penalties in some regions of African and poor enforcement against those caught smuggling rhinoceros horn into Asia, many crime syndicates are branching out into the horn and ivory trade, where risks are lessened and profits can be greater. Between the years of 2008 and 2011, 776 rhinos were poached in South Africa, where poachers’ almonry has grown ever-more sophisticated, incorporating GPS, semi-automatic weapons bought on the Somalian black market; night-vision goggles stolen from the Kenyan army and even helicopters. The plight of the white rhino is of paramount concern to African conservationists such as Tunde Folawiyo. As a trustee of the African Leadership Academy and fellow of the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Programme, Tunde is keen to preserve Africa’s future, particularly its environment. Tunde Folawiyo’s About Me page provides an overview on this Lagos-born entrepreneur and his interests in African conservation.

Protection of the white rhino is taken very seriously at the Ol Pejeta conservation park in Kenya.  Here they are placed under 24 hour armed guard. In 2011, 14 poachers were killed in gun battles with park rangers. In Christmas of that year, a Kenyan park ranger was shot dead by poachers, in a revenge attack.

Tunde Folawiyo

Rhino horn is composed of nothing more magical than keratin. After years of lab research, it has been found to have no more mystical qualities than cow hoof or hair. But in Chinese medicine, it is considered a wonder drug, curing all manner of ailments, from convulsions to cancer to the common hangover. The Chinese medicine market, combined with trophy hunting, are the chief contributors to the decimation of white rhino stocks in Africa over the last 50 years, declining in numbers by some 96%.

Whilst black rhinos are browsers, indigenous to east Africa, white rhinos are grazers. They are indigenous to the south. Their names are misleading – both species are actually the same colour.  Both are grey. The name “white” is believed to have arisen from a mistranslation of the Afrikaans word for “wide”, referring to the shape of the white rhino’s square mouth. The two types differ in disposition too. The black rhino has a reputation for being much more aggressive.

There are five species of rhino still in existence:

  • The white rhino
  • The black rhino
  • The Sumatran rhino
  • The greater one-horned rhino
  • The Javan rhino

In 2011, the last Javan rhinoceros in Cat Tien National Park was found dead. He’d been shot in the leg. His horn had been sawn off. The Javan rhinoceros is the rarest rhino species and quite likely the rarest of the world’s large mammals. It is now only found in the Ujung Kulon National Park and are considered extremely vulnerable.

The greater one-horned rhino lives near the watering holes of India and Nepal. The Sumatran rhino is the closest existing relative of the woolly rhinoceros that lived during the ice-age. It is regarded as the most primitive species because of its hairy skin and ancient characteristics.

The black rhino is the smaller of the two African rhinoceros species. It is critically endangered, with just 5,055 left living in the wild.

The white rhino has been rescued from the brink of extinction, largely thanks to intensive conservation and breeding programmes in South Africa. At one point, just 50 white rhino were believed to be left in the wild. The latest population estimate is 20,045. Most of the world’s white rhino’s live in South Africa, however the country is currently experiencing an upsurge in poaching.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature, or WWF, have campaigned on the plight of the white rhino for decades. Rhinos play an important part in the ecosystem, shaping the African landscape for millions of years, consuming huge amounts of vegetation. Rhinos are part of Africa’s “Big Five” – an irreplaceable attraction for tourists. The WWF have been working throughout Africa for a number of years promoting ecotourism as a viable source of income for locals, educating and promoting understanding. Whilst these creatures might fetch a high price dead, they are worth far more to Africa’s future alive.

The Kruger National Park is famous all over the world, drawing thousands of tourists to Africa each year. Kruger National Park is home to scores of different animal species including the African elephant, buffalo, cheetah, leopard, giraffe, lion and, of course, the white Rhino. It was created by South African President, Paul Kruger, when gold prospectors and hunters were flocking to the area in the late 1800s. Kruger’s vision for a game sanctuary took over a decade to be realised. Whereas the Kruger National Park was created for hunting, the key aim now is conservation and protection of African wildlife.

Former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, recently commented that the world is changing faster than ever. Burgeoning human populations and prolific consumption are placing huge pressure on the bio-diversity of the planet. Biodiversity is key in protecting life and the environment from the pressures of modern life. Eco-tourism has a critical role to play in promoting possibilities and responsibilities; in saving not just endangered animals and ecosystems, but the world as a whole.

African conservationwhite rhino

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