their respect, but at the same time they are a lot more fragile than it seems. Some species of rhinos are frighteningly close to extinction – like the Northern White rhinos protected by San Diego Zoo¹. There are just six left in captivity today. In Africa alone the rhino population has dropped 97% in the last 100 years. National parks and zoos help, but they can only do so much when the real problem is that rhinos are struggling in the wild.
So how did we reach this point, where many rhino species are endangered?
The problem with poaching
In 2016 in South Africa, 6% of the rhino population was lost; around the same amount as were born². This is good news on the one hand, because it means they are not currently becoming more endangered, but something needs to change if they are to flourish. It is a delicate balance, and if it tips the wrong way, it could mean disaster for this incredible animal.
The human population
One reason hunting became a problem is due to the growing population of people on our planet. Hunting was not a problematic activity when there were fewer people and more rhinos. But as the balance changed, the rhino population became threatened and suffered a decline.
As the number of people increased, the same activities we had always done; of using animals for food, sport and perceived medicinal purposes, became detrimental to the number of rhinos alive today. With no consideration of this balance, several species of rhino are now critically endangered³.
Poaching wild animals is a lucrative business with an estimated 7.8 to 10 billion US dollars being used in trade for wild animals every year! A rhino horn can be sold for $300,000 apiece, which makes it even more valuable to black market traders than gold.
What the trade of these animals doesn’t take into account, is the large disruption this causes to the area they are taken from. Tourists visit places where these animals live and bring in a lot of money to the local economy. Extinction of such a iconic species, therefore, equates to a loss of income and jobs for local communities. Poaching also upsets the natural biodiversity of the animals, leading to unnatural population growth and complications for other animal species as well, not only the one becoming extinct.
The medicine myth
Another reason why rhinos are so critically endangered is because of the belief of people buying their horns that they contain a sacred medicinal power. In some countries, they were used in the traditional medicine to treat blood disorders, hangovers or fevers⁴. However, these medicinal properties have no grounding in scientific evidence. The rhino horn is simply made of keratin, which is exactly the same molecule like our nails.
How can rhinos be protected in the future?
Protection of rhinos can be achieved only through the proper law enforcement in the area and the work of specialized non-governmental organizations in close cooperation with local community. Local people are the key element in tackling the problem of poaching, as they have the knowledge of the area, know the practices and are constantly present. Placing emphasis on local was a large part of the success of Nepal’s achievement; celebrating two years of being rhino poaching free.
What can you do?
If you don’t live near a site or rhino conservation program, you can help by supporting organizations like the WWF by “adopting” a rhino. Or you can start step by step by sharing this article with your friends who might be interested in helping.
This is an issue that may feel far from home, but when an animal species becomes extinct, it is something that affects us all. The world suffers a big loss when it comes to the natural balance.