Experts in rhino conservation met last week in Nairobi, convened by the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), in response to a rhino poaching epidemic gripping South Africa and Zimbabwe, which reached a record high in 2011 -- poaching in South Africa alone leapt up 33 percent in just a year, with an estimated 448 rhinos killed for their horns compared to 13 killed in 2007. While the white rhino is an overall success story coming back from around 100 at the turn of the century to around 20,000 today, if current trends persist rhinos may be extinct in the wild by 2025.
Today, most rhino populations exist only in fenced sanctuaries, conservancies and intensive protected areas where concentrated law enforcement attempts to guard these species from the snares, bullets and tranquilizers of poachers. Even in Kruger National Park, which is one of South Africa's most protected parks and home to the largest Black and White rhino populations, poaching rates have reached a record high. In 2011, over half of South Africa's rhino poachings occurred within park boundaries despite increased anti-poaching efforts.
The recent surge in poaching has been linked to the growing use of rhino horn among the wealthy and business class in Vietnam and China, where it is a gifted luxury item or used to treat a range of ailments, including a hangover. This increased demand in Asian markets has lured in crafty criminal syndicates on par with drug and human trafficking; once cut into small quantities for distribution, a single horn is reputed to bring in up to $50,000 per kilo, making it more valuable than gold. Poaching has become a lucrative business well worth the risk of exploiting legal loopholes and violating international bans as well as investing in expensive state-of-the-art poaching equipment, such as gun silencers, night vision goggles and even helicopters.
Attendees of the Rhino Summit all agreed that stepped up enforcement and campaigns in Vietnam and China should be the immediate response to the crisis. WildAid has been a leader in anti-wildlife trafficking campaigns, and we are now turning our attention to rhinos. WildAid reaches up to a billion people a week using public service announcements and short-form documentary pieces to educate consumers about how they can be part of the solution to end the illegal rhino trade. WildAid recently released the illustrated e-book, Izzy the Rhino, about a six-year old rhino found killed in South Africa last year, as reported by The Guardian. We are currently developing a multi-faceted political/consumer awareness campaign with AWF and KWS, while looking to provide some emergency support to law enforcement efforts.
Visit wildaid.org/rhinos for more information.