Poachers don't even try to be humane when they kill a rhino for its horn. They will crush whatever stands in their way, even if it is just a 90lb baby rhino, trying to protect its mother. They use pangas and axes to hack the horn off a rhino's face, regardless of whether the rhino is alive or dead, and leave it without thought. They leave it rotting next to its helpless calf, who will never be able to grow up as it should.
Rhinos are gentle. They are curious when we stop nearby to observe them. They are protective of their calves. They communicate. They are not so unlike us.
Rhinos have few, even no, natural predators. But they have horns, made of keratin, like our fingernails. Horns that some people believe have medicinal properties--properties that are unproven. So people brutally kill them, even young rhinos, for just a nub of horn.
I am writing from South Africa where I'm working with four international young adults trying to increase global awareness for the plight facing rhinos in southern Africa, in affiliation with the Non-Governmental Organization StopRhinoPoaching.com. The rhino population has become devastatingly low due to the rise in illegal rhino horn poaching, and poachers are incredibly inhumane. In this year alone, over 480 rhinos have been brutally killed, and the rate of poaching is still increasing. In the two short weeks I've been here, I've fallen in love with rhinos. Also during these two short weeks, over 20 rhinos have been cruelly killed for their horns.
The facts are clear; we can't stay in denial. However, in the United States, far from this crisis happening primarily in South Africa, it is so easy to disregard or simply be ignorant of these statistics. It is so distant, it might not seem real; you can assume someone else is helping and you may not think that you can make a difference from over 9,000 miles away. We don't have anyone else who can fix this, though, and we don't have time to wait: it has been predicted that rhino could become extinct in less than a decade. The rate of over two rhinos poached every day is clearly not sustainable. Do we want to be the generation that allowed this heritage of wildlife to be destroyed? Do we need for the rhino to become extinct before we make a change and start preserving our remaining wildlife? We need to spread awareness together, and we can't afford to wait.
While rhino may seem like prehistoric, funny-looking creatures, it only took me a few days of observing them to feel an attachment towards them. Interested, they always wander towards our car to gaze at us as we watch them, and come so close that I can feel their breath as I look right into their eyes, and they curiously look back. They trust us enough to graze or nap in our company. They even allow their calves, of whom they are fiercely protective, to play near the car, though they remain close by. I wish that everyone had the opportunity to enjoy rhinos living happily and with their horns, as nature intended, in their natural habitats. It would be so easy to stop poaching if everyone had the opportunity to be as touched by them as I have. Unfortunately, not everyone can see them as I do, which is why I am here trying to raise global awareness and funds for their critical situation.
Follow Natalie Lapides on Twitter: www.twitter.com/natalap11