The Sumatran rhino has walked the earth longer than any living mammal, but today less than one hundred individuals remain. Poaching has brought the species to the brink of extinction. The horns are hacked off and illegally sold as jewellery, trinkets and medicine for up to USD 100,000 per kilo, more than the weight of gold.
The predicament of the world’s other four rhino species is similar, or worse, and wildlife experts say the rhinoceros will follow the dodo bird into extinction if poachers aren’t stopped immediately. Conservation efforts have been unable to keep pace as poaching has exploded over the past decade – especially in the rhino haven of South Africa, where 80 per cent of the world’s rhinos reside.
According to the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, 13 rhinos were poached in South Africa in 2007. By 2015, the annual figure was at 1,175, and the running total for that nine-year period was 5,940 rhinos – killed for their horns. Poachers are also known to even kill rhinos that have already had their horns removed, just so they won’t waste time tracking them again.
There is no single answer to combating the current poaching crisis. What’s needed, says London-based Save the Rhino International, is a comprehensive strategy, including rigorous anti-poaching and monitoring patrols, community conservation and environmental education schemes, translocations and demand-reduction projects in Asia.
The Javan rhino, once rather common in Southeast Asia, has been reduced to a group of 40 in Indonesia. The western black rhino, a sub-species of the black rhino, was declared extinct in 2011, and the northern white rhino, a sub-species of the white rhino, is extinct in the wild. There are only three left, living under 24-hour armed guard in Kenya.
African black rhinos numbered in the hundreds of thousands in the 19th century, but today there remain only between 5,000 and 6,000. The southern white rhino species is the most numerous, with an estimated 20,000 individuals, but nonetheless it bears the brunt of the recent surge in poaching, with hundreds slaughtered every year. To this end, Oak is supporting a new investigation by the Elephant Action League into rhino horn trafficking in Asia.
Meanwhile, the dwindling rhino population numbers are sobering. That is why, on 22 September every year, International Rhino Day is celebrated and marked. This special day provides the opportunity for organisations, zoos and members of the public to raise awareness about the very real and pressing threat of the extinction of the rhino.
Oak joins them on this special day – it is clear that the madness of poaching must stop before it’s too late!