The rhinoceros is one of Africa’s greatest natural treasures, but it is at risk of extinction because of illegal poaching. Unfortunately these beautiful animals are slaughtered to fill the demand for rhino horn, mostly in Asia. In 2015 an estimated 1,1175 rhinos were illegally killed in South Africa for their horns, and a total of 5,940 have been killed since 2008*. And that’s just what’s documented and reported; the number may actually be much higher. Here are 10 things you should know about the scourge of rhino poaching.
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* according to statistics from SaveTheRhino.org
This article originally appeared on AFKInsider.com.
1. Rhinos are at risk of extinction
At the beginning of the 1900s, there were about 500,000 rhinos in the world. By 1970, this number had dwindled to 70,000. As of 2016, there are about 25,000 rhinos left in the world. Most are white rhinos and are found in South Africa. While these numbers don’t put the white rhino into the endangered category (though several other species of rhinos are endangered), there is no doubt that the white rhino is vulnerable. Since poachers indiscriminately kill females and young rhinos, the slaughter is not something the rhino population can quickly recover from.
2. Rhinos are part of a larger ecosystem
When rhino poaching goes unchecked, it doesn’t just put rhinos at risk, it also puts all of the other plant and animal species sharing that ecosystem at risk. According to the Smithsonian Institution, rhinos are “keystone” animals, meaning that they have a relatively large influence on their environment in relation to their actual population numbers. If rhino numbers dwindle, it affects the grasslands and soil content — which affects all other animals in the area. Researchers warn that rhino poaching could cause the savanna to become very different, and very empty some day.
3. Rhinos attract tourists
After the elephant, the rhino is the second-largest living land animal. In 2011, more than 8 million tourists came to South Africa and went on safari to see these impressive animals. If rhinos become endangered, South Africa and other countries will lose out on vital tourism dollars and jobs.
4. Fighting rhino poaching is expensive
South Africa has tried numerous strategies to fight rhino poaching. These strategies, such as deploying the military to halt poachers, come with a high price tag. One of the most recent moves to save the rhino involved relocating up to 100 rhinos from South Africa to Botswana. All the rhinos were tagged and microchipped. The cost of the operation: US$8 million.
5. Poachers don’t care which rhinos they kill
Poachers will often kill any rhino so long as they are able to get a horn from it. This includes young females or females with young calves. Female white rhinos don’t reach sexual maturity until about 6 or 7 years old and they generally only birth one calf every two or three years. Indiscriminate killing of females mean the rhino is even more likely to face extinction.
6. Rhino poaching leads to poaching of other animals
Rhinos aren’t the only animals sought by poachers. Recent cases against crime syndicates have revealed that poachers also illegally hunted other animals, particularly the “Big Five,” which includes rhinos, lions, leopards, buffaloes, and elephants, several of which are endangered. By taking steps to prevent rhino poaching, other animals are also protected.
7. There is no scientific proof that rhino horn has medical benefits
Hunting rhinos for their horns just encourages the perpetuation of ancient superstitions that have no basis in fact.
8. Rhino poachers are part of organized crime syndicates
Contrary to common belief, rhinos aren’t mostly being slaughtered by poor locals who have no other way of making a living. They are being hunted by organized gangs working for crime syndicates who use advanced technologies such as night vision and helicopters to illegally kill the animals. This is just another example of the rich getting richer by stealing a natural resource which should benefit local populations and the population of the world.
9. Violence against animals is linked to violence against humans
Numerous studies show that violence against animals is linked to violence against humans. South Africa is already suffering from horrendous crime rates, including a murder rate of about 45 per day.
10. Women are exploited to support the illegal rhino trade
South Africa and Swaziland are the only two countries in the world where you can legally hunt a rhino in a private game reserve. Hunters are allowed to take rhino horns home as trophies. Rhino hunting syndicates take advantage of this loophole to illegally sell and export rhino horn. In the trial against the Xaysavang syndicate, Lieutenant Chumlong Lemtongthai admitted that his syndicate would recruit Thai women (many of whom were sex workers) to pose as hunters.
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