ABOUT Rhinoceros poaching

 

There are two species of rhinos: the white rhinoceros, also known as square-lipped rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum), and the black rhinoceros, AKA hook-lipped rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis).

 

For most of the 20th century, black rhinos were the most numerous of all rhino species. Around 1900 there were probably several hundred thousand living in Africa. During the second half of the 20th century their numbers were severely reduced from an estimated 70,000 in the late 1960s to only 10,000 in 1981. In the early ‘90s the number dipped below 2,500 and kept decreasing.

After years of efforts, according to the International Rhino Foundation, the total African population had recovered to 4,240 by 2008. By 2019 the population of 5,500 was either steady or slowly increasing. Today it is esteemed to be around 5,600. 

Good news after all, but a mere fraction of what it used to (and still should) be.

 

 

White rhinos, on the other hands, are divided in two subspecies: southern white r.(Ceratotherium simum simum) and northern white r. (Ceratotherium simum cottoni).

 

The only rhino subspecies that has recovered somewhat from the brink of extinction is the first one, the southern white rhinoceros, whose numbers are, as of 31 December 2007, estimated around 17,460 (IUCN 2008). They are by far the most abundant subspecies of rhino in the world today, but they were fewer than 50 in the first decade of the 20th century.

 

Even though in 2022 South Africa granted permits to hunt 10 black rhinos stating that “ The population is growing”, there seems to be hope for the black rhinoceros as well. It seems possible (and feasible) to recover their gametes from dead rhinos in captivity. This shows promising results for producing black rhinoceros embryos, which can be used for testing sperm in vitro.

 

 

Unfortunately the northern white rhinoceros population does not share the same “luck”. 

 

Historically, the major factor in the decline of white rhinos was uncontrolled hunting in the colonial era, but now poaching for their horn is the primary threat. The white rhino is particularly vulnerable to hunting, because it is a large and relatively unaggressive animal with very poor eye sight that generally lives in herds.

After years of hunting and poaching this subspecies is probably extinct in the wild, although there are seldom reports of sightings from The Democratic Republic of Congo and from South Sudan (these sightings have never been confirmed).

 

 

In 1975, six northern white rhinoceros found a safe shelter in the Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic. 

 

Four of the six remaining reproductive rhinos were transported to Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya in 2009, where scientists hoped they would successfully breed and save this subspecies from extinction, and two remained in Czech Republic.

One of two remaining animals in the zoo died in late May 2011 and  two of the last three males capable of natural mating died in 2014 (one in Kenya on 18 October and one in San Diego on 15 December), leaving a male and two females only.

 

In 2015, the Kenyan government placed the last remaining male of the subspecies under 24-hour armed guard, to deter poachers, but he had to be put down on 19 March 2018 due to multiple health problems caused by old age.

His name was Sudan.

The two remaining female rhinos, Najin and Fatu, live at the Ol Pejeta complex and are protected round-the-clock by armed guards.

About poaching.

 

The trade in rhino horns is highly lucrative. In the black market, rhino horn prices can fetch up to $ 65,000 USD per kg (up to $ 300,000 USD for a big one).

And then comes the Question: why so??

 

Despite the lack of scientific evidence, the rhino horn is highly prized in traditional Asian medicine, where it is ground into a fine powder or manufactured into tablets to be used as a treatment for a variety of illnesses such as nosebleeds, strokes, convulsions, and fevers. Due to this demand, several highly organized and very profitable international poaching syndicates came into being, and would carry out their poaching missions with advanced technologies ranging from night vision scopes, silenced weapons, darting equipment and even helicopters. 

Yes, helicopters.

 

I am not a big fun of animal captivity (especially dolphins and whales!) but I recognize the conservation power of zoos. 

Now, you would believe a rhino to be safer in a cage, right?

In March, 2017 the Thoiry Zoo, located in France, was broken into by poachers. A Southern white rhinoceros, named Vince, was found shot dead in his enclosure. The poachers had removed one of his horns and had attempted to remove his second horn. This is believed to be the first time a rhinoceros had been killed in a European zoo.

 

Even with increased anti-poaching efforts in many African countries, many poachers are still willing to risk death or prison time because of the tremendous amount of money that they stand to make. 

Poachers are also starting to use social media sites for obtaining information on exact rhinos’ locations in popular touristic places (such as Kruger National Park) by searching for geotagged photographs posted online by unsuspecting tourists.

By using GPS coordinates of rhino in recent photographs, poachers are able to more easily find their targets and grab their price.

 

Keep this in mind if you happen to see and photograph one of this terrific animals.

Do not share the photo right away, and do not share the location / GPS coordinates of the picture (check the setting of your device as well).

 

 

This photo of a southern white rhinoceros has been taken over two years ago in the Kruger National Park, where 3,549 white rhinos live today. 

 


All images © Federico Facchin 2014-2022