World Rhino Day has come and gone and if you were celebrating our heritage this past weekend, we hope you took some time out to consider the rhino. But, after the dust has settled on the worldwide celebration and awareness has been raised, where do we stand on the poaching crisis that continues to face South Africa’s rhinos? We all agree that poaching should be stopped, but will it be? And more importantly, how?The battle to save SA’s rhinos continues as, despite the 203 people arrested this year in connection with poaching, 388 rhinos have been illegally killed so far. Clearly rhino poaching is not a problem that’s going to go away by itself and by the time conservationists have drummed up enough support from the public, it could be too late: rhinos could be extinct in the next 50 years.With the crisis reaching an unprecedented peak, it seems the conservationists are grasping at straws for ways to combat poaching. The possibility of trading in rhino horn has been considered as a way of protecting the animals, and now the World Wildlife Fund is enlisting the help of religious leaders in communities across the world to apply religious pressure as a weapon against poaching.And while religion may be a useful way of shoring up communities against poachers and potentially even adding to the pressure to reduce the demand for rhino horn products, rhino killings have risen drastically over the past five years (from just 13 in 2007) and we are well on our way to breaking last year’s record of 448 deaths.In light of this, the WWF-SA has launched a five point plan they believe will tackle the worst of the crises. The points include:
- building strong rhino populations;
- ensuring that communities in surrounding rangelands are invested in rhino conservation by allowing them to benefit from conservation projects
- supporting the investigation and prosecution of poaching activities;
- encouraging co-operation between SA and states where rhino horn is a sought-after commodity;
- developing a comprehensive understanding of how the rhino horn trade works.
South Africa is the habitat of over 80% of the global rhino population. Saving our rhinos means saving the world’s rhinos. Ultimately it’s up to the public to respond to the pleas of conservationists and start putting pressure on the relevant powers-that-be to make rhino poaching a serious offence. If we don’t stand up for them now, in fifty years, we’ll be commemorating World Rhino Day for a very different reason: to mark the absence of these animals from our planet.