As we begin a brand new year looking back at 2010 brings up a sad set of statistics for African rhinos. Last year in South Africa alone, more than 260 rhinos were killed due to poaching. This is nearly double the number was recorded in 2009.
The modern face of poaching generally consists of slick military-style operations using high tech equipment such as helicopters and night vision equipment. Such groups targeting privately owned reserves as well as national parks. The reason for the increase in the slaughter of rhinos across Africa is due to the high price attained by illegally selling rhino horn to the Eastern Market.
Rhino horns have been coveted by many different groups for centuries for their decorative appearance when carved, and their supposed healing properties. Currently, in the East, horns are used in the creation of sacred daggers in counties like Yemen and Oman but their use in medicine is generally found further east across China, India and South East Asia.
Its a common misconception that the horn is ground up and used as an aphrodisiac. It is actually believed to be a pure ingredient for the treatment of fever and convulsions, and those who believe in the ingredient think that alternatives are less reliable because they do not come from a pure source. Because a rhino horn is made of Keratin (a substance found in nails, hair and animal hooves) science has proven that the concentrations given in Eastern Medicine are as effective as it would be to chew on your own finger nails.
The story of the white rhino is one of conservations success stories. Thanks to breeding programmes in South Africa the White rhino was brought back from the brink of extinction. These increasing figures cast a dark cloud over the hard work and efforts of everyone involved in this success.
There is hope against the horrors of poaching. This is found in the forms of government organisations working together and conservation organisations like the Endangered Wildlife Trust and the World Wildlife Foundation.
The WWF declared September to be Rhino Month. Schemes like this increase donations which help to supply anti-poaching units with the equipment they need and raise world awareness of the plight of the rhino. Government organisations are not only focusing on the security of these animals but also on ensuring a harder crack down on those brought to prosecution for poaching activities, the legislation behind rhino horn trade and education of the public so the message will spread.
Travelling to Africa allows you to see these animals in the wild, where they are meant to be. Seeing them like this and the knowledge that is passed on to you from your rangers gives you a better understanding of these animals. Finding out more about them, and then telling others about your travels and what you have seen makes you a part of the long term solution to save African Rhinos.