Celebrities rally against rhino poaching

Rhinos from Shutterstock.
Rhinos from Shutterstock.
Steven Gill

The killing of rhinos for their horns has been approaching epidemic proportions within the last few years; rhino poaching has increased 50 percent since 2011 and almost 5,000 percent since 2007. In Africa, the rhino population has significantly deceased, with only 20,405 white rhinos and 5,055 black rhinos remaining. 

Read: Join the Rhino Wars

According to government statistics, a great majority of rhino poaching occurs at Kruger National Park, the largest game reserve in Africa, covering 19,000 square kilometres. At the reserve, hunters and those who are impoverished slip through the park’s borders to kill and dehorn rhinos, earning the equivalent of a typically monthly wage in a single night. Though Kruger has hired soldiers and dogs to stand watch against poachers, they cannot efficiently patrol all of the park’s land.

However, when rangers or soldiers do come into contact with poachers, a shoot-out often occurs, with poachers regularly getting killed in a skirmish with security staff.

Read: More ways to save rhinos

In Nov. 2011, two rangers spotted poachers who were tracking a white rhino at Ndumo Game Reserve. When the rangers ordered the men to lower their weapons, the poachers, instead, pointed their guns at the rangers and shot. The shoot-out eventually led to the apprehension of one poacher and the death of another, Erasmo Mazivele.  

Astonishingly, the magistrate, who ruled over the court case in June 2013, convicted the apprehended poacher, Wawito Mawala, with murdering his accomplice, even though it was the rangers who killed Mazivele. The magistrate stated that Mawala had been the cause of Mazivele’s death because Mawala had knowingly put the Mazivele's life in danger.

Read: Rhino horn: the real dilemma 

The placement of security at game reserves and the persistence of rangers have been positively helping the fight against rhino poaching. According to the Game Rangers Association of Africa, within the first four months of 2014, 96 low-level rhino poachers have been arrested.

However, not all law enforcement assigned to protect these rhinos can always be trusted. There have been numerous cases where rangers assigned to guard reserves have been found aiding poachers.

Though the majority of rhino poaching occurs at Kruger, smaller reserves have also been affected. Poachers have hunted in a variety of game reserves, leaving behind mutilated carcasses of rhinos, with their horns hacked out of their heads, their eyes gouged out, and their genitalia and ears cut off.

To make matters worse, new hunting methods and high-calibre weapons have been developed to make the poaching of these 900 kg animals easier. Helicopters, high-powered rifles, tranquilizer guns, veterinary drugs and night vision goggles have all been used.

Read: Gangs drive surge in poaching

The recent surge in rhino poaching has been fuelled by demand from Asian medicine markets, which thrive off the selling of rhino horns as traditional medicines, believed to cure everything from hangovers and nosebleeds to strokes and cancer.

Rhino horns are made out of keratin, a protein found in human nails. Though doctor have repeatedly asserted that rhino horns have no medicinal value, rhino horns are considered extremely valuable in countries such as Vietnam and China, and often sell for a price comparable to gold or cocaine; the average price of a rhino horn is about $65,000 a kilo!

While more than two-thirds of rhino poaching occurs in South Africa, which is home to about 73 percent of the world’s wild rhino population, last year, the World Wide Fund for Nature ranked Vietnam as the worst country for crime against wildlife, after poachers killed the rarest large land mammal on the planet, the endangered Javan rhino.

Read: Japanese appetite for ivory fuels poaching epidemic

Rhino horn smuggling and selling is transnational and worth millions of dollars, causing the rise in rhino poaching to only increase throughout the years.

However, in response, in 2012, South African and Vietnamese governments signed a treaty increasing enforcement of hunting bans to deal with rhino poaching and other conservation issues. The two governments have since been sharing information to clampdown on offenders. Their goal is to disrupt rhino smuggling transit routes from Africa to Asia.

Celebrities have also played a huge part in rhino horn awareness. Just this Wednesday, Prince William, David Beckham and Yao Ming teamed up with WildAid to create a series of public service announcements (PSAs), aimed at China and Vietnam, urging people to not support the trading of illegal wildlife.

In the first video, the trio focused solely on the ever decreasing population of rhinos due to poaching.

In the second video, the trio spoke out against illegal trading of elephant, rhino and shark products, encouraging people to not purchase rhino horns, ivory or shark fin.

The group filmed both of these PSAs back in Sept. 2013, but the videos were not released until this week, as they both played a part in London’s recent conservationist events, where conservationists from all around the world met to discuss ways to save animals from extinction.

“Surveys have shown that a large portion of China’s population is unaware of the death toll to create ivory and rhino horn products… We must raise awareness and encourage action if we are going to stop the demand for these products," said Yao Ming in WildAid’s public service announcement. "Many consumers change their behaviour when shown the facts. A similar campaign and a government ban at banquets are helping to reduce shark fin consumption in China. We can do the same for ivory and rhino horn."

Read more: 

Rhino poached to extinction in Vietnam
More than 1000 rhinos poached in 2013
Fight back for Rhino Day 

Sources: National Geographic Daily News, International Anti Poaching Foundation, National Geographic News Watch, Huffington Post, World Wide Fund for Nature, Business Insider and E! Online

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