Thursday, 22 September 2011

World Rhino Day September 22nd

Today is World Rhino Day!  This event was established to raise the profile of rhino conservation and to encourage awareness of the issues facing rhinos today.

We designed our posters from images taken on previous safaris of White Rhino

 All round the World, people who care about the desperate plight of rhinos have been doing their bit to make more people and Governments aware of the grave situation facing rhinos today. We made our posters available for anyone to download at  We also printed some of them out and put them on our car.

World Rhino Day posters on our car in Aberdeen ~ Scotland supports rhinos!!!

So why should people care about the rhino?  What is so desperate about their situation and does it really matter? 

There are several species of rhino in the World today.  Most experts list five surviving species of rhino; the White Rhino and Black Rhino in Africa; the Indian Greater One-Horned Rhino, the Javan Rhino and the Sumatran Rhino.  However, recent genetic research has indicated that the Northern White Rhino and Southern White Rhino may be seperate species.  There are only three Northern White Rhino known to exist in the World today, although there may be a small number still hanging on in Southern Sudan.  Whilst habitat loss has affected the rhino substantially, the greatest threat has been the increase in demand for rhino horn in countries where traditional Chinese medicine is practised.  The economic rise of China, has created a massive wealth boost for middle class Chinese, leading to huge demand for products previously only available to a wealthy few.  This has led to a surge in poaching of rhino for their horn.

The Rhino's horn consists of little more than keratin, the same protein that makes up hair and nails

Although extensive scientific research has produced no evidence for any beneficial effect from the consumption of rhino horn, this has not stopped traditional Chinese medicine practicioners from advertising it as some kind of panacaea for everything from irritable bowel syndrome, to high blood pressure and even several forms of cancer!!!  Goodness some people are really gullible and deserve to be swindled of their money but that doesn't mean the rhino deserves to die in the process!!!

The only remaining Black Rhino in Masai Mara with her semi-adult calf

Rhinos are important species in their environments.  They have very large ranges and as a result, are vital pollenators through seed distribution in their dung.  They also have a role as environmental engineers, creating change in habitat structure that benefits other species.  

White Rhino in Lake Nakuru National Park with Egret companion

Whilst several countries have made great efforts to conserve and protect their rhino populations, they are struggling against the increasing commercial demand for rhino horn, which has led to levels of poaching that have not been seen since the 1970s and 1980s.  In 1970 there were 65,000 Black Rhino in Africa, with over 20,000 of those in Kenya.  By 1987, poaching had reduced the population in Kenya to just 387!!!!!  In 1995 the total African population of Black Rhino was just 2410, a reduction of 96 percent in only 25 years!!!!!!!!

In 1984 the Kenya Wildlife Service started conservation projects in Tsavo and Nakuru initially to try to arrest this catastrophic decline and some success was achieved with a moderate increase in population by 2005 to 539.  Similar efforts were launched to preserve the White Rhino population in Southern Africa, resulting in one of the great success stories in conservation, as the population of Southern White Rhino increased to such an extent that in 2006 CITES downgraded the animal's listing to Appendix II in South Africa and Swaziland.  The IUCN also took them off the threatened list.  However, the optimism this encouraged was to be short-lived, as the growth of China as an economic power has led to a massive increase in demand for traditional Chinese medicine in recent years, leading to a huge increase in not only the level but the sophistication of poaching operations.

A White Rhino pair we were lucky to meet on foot on our first safari

The Chinese Government has recently imported a large number of White Rhinos from South Africa, with the intention of farming them for horn, to supply the traditional Chinese medicine market.  Some Southern African countries have suggested that farming rhino for their horn may help reduce poaching.  However, we feel this is a mistake, as it costs thousands of dollars to keep one rhino, which will produce around one kilo of horn per year.  However, for the 25 cent price of a bullet, a poacher can take a 3-5 kilo full horn from a dead rhino, so there is no way that a legitimate market for farmed rhino horn can meet the demand and reduce the level of poaching, when the rewards are so high.

Howard photographing White Rhino on a foot safari in Kenya

Meeting White Rhino for the first time, we were struck by how docile and tolerant these immense creatures are.  As you can see from the photo above, they were quite comfortable with us approaching very close; in fact, on one occasion in Lake Nakuru National Park, Howard accidentally leaned on the car horn whilst attempting to shoot round Karen, with a pair of White Rhinos no more than ten feet away and they did not even twitch!

On this, World Rhino Day, our greatest hope is that enough people will become aware of the precarious survival of the different rhino species to ensure that Governments will do their part in working to educate the rhino horn consuming nations and work towards preserving these unique, intelligent and magnificent beings.


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