Rhinos: Myth may wipe out a species

By Fiona Gordon

A four man anti-poaching team permanently guards Northern White Rhino on Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.  Photo / Brent Stirton
A four man anti-poaching team permanently guards Northern White Rhino on Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Photo / Brent Stirton

Conservation: The Rhinoceros is 'consumed' by those gambling on a myth or wanting to show off their individual wealth, and others who are simply proud to display their hunting trophy.

A 52-year-old woman in Vietnam is concerned when examinations reveal a spot on her right breast and a shadow on an ovary. When asked by National Geographic if she believes Rhino Horn may help cure her, she says "I don't know, but when you think you might die, it can't hurt to try it." She drains her glass of ground amber-coloured horn mixed with water. "I hope it works," she says.

The black rhinoceros is on the verge of extinction, with only an estimated 5055 black rhinoceroses left in the world. This 96 per cent decline over the past century is due largely to poaching. Despite the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) 1977 international trade ban, Rhino Horn can fetch NZ$60,450 per kilogram in the Asian market.

The northern and southern white rhinos are genetically distinct sub-species, with an estimated total of 20,405 remaining in the world. The Ol Pejeta Conservancy, in Kenya, is home to the last four Northern White Rhinos remaining outside of captivity, transferred from the Czech Zoo in 2009. Despite having had radio transmitters attached and being humanely dehorned, they receive armed guard patrol 24/7 to deter poachers.

In 2012, at least 745 Rhinos were poached throughout Africa, the highest number in two decades. 2013 poaching rates are worse still, with one Rhino killed every 11 hours. There is no room for complacency, according to the IUCN, with the escalating demand threatening to reverse any previous conservation gains.

Revered for medicinal uses in many Asian countries, rhino horn is used in traditional Chinese medicine for anything from headaches, food poisoning and gout, to cancer. In Vietnam it's the new party drug of choice and downed with wine to demonstrate one's wealth, and is prized in North Africa and the Middle East as an ornamental dagger handle.

In 1990 research found that large doses of Rhino Horn extract, similar to horses' hooves and chickens' claws, could slightly lower fever in rats - as could extracts from antelope and buffalo horn. Raj Amin, Ecologist at the Zoological Society of London, considers you'd do just as well chewing on your fingernails.

The Rhino is also in hot demand with the hunting fraternity. The Dallas Safari Club (DSC) in Texas is to hold a controversial auction in 2014 whereby hunters will bid for a permit to kill an endangered Black Rhino in Namibia. According to the DSC, this hunt is based on a fundamental premise of modern wildlife management that 'populations matter; individuals don't'. To this end, the auction proceeds are to be earmarked for Rhino Conservation in Namibia, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service is to grant an exemption for the importation of the trophy, to bring in a higher auction price.

Rhino Horn pro-trade proponents assert that trade is necessary to fund Rhino conservation, and that the 1977 CITES trade ban hasn't worked. Executive director of the Humane Society International U.K., Mark Jones, simply says that for trade bans to work they must be enforced, and combined with effective law enforcement and market reduction efforts.

Successful Rhino conservation efforts include the self-funded Ol Pejeta Conservancy, deriving an income from cattle, wheat and tourism. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) in Kenya has successfully rescued 14 black rhino orphans, many of whom are now living wild. Funds and 'foster' donations from the public through their Orphans' Project, makes a substantial difference to their continued conservation initiatives.

And, just last month in Auckland, at a Webbs auction, two bidders "fiercely fought" over two intricately carved antique Rhino Horns. The winner parted with almost $800 000. Webbs explain that "the value of such notable and distinguished provenance is high given the present-day existence of a black market for rhinoceros horns."

To help, visit:

http://www.olpejetaconservancy.org/support

or
www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org

Fiona Gordon is an environmental policy analyst and mediator.
Like what you see? For weekly Element news sign up to our newsletter.
We're also on facebook and Twitter.

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n6 at 02 Sep 2014 02:21:24 Processing Time: 493ms