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September 22nd: International rhinoceros day

rhinoceros

Since 2010, an international day is dedicated to rhinoceros and especially to the five species still living in Africa and Aisa: the white, black, Sumatran, Javan and unicorn (Indian) rhinoceros.

Victims of poaching, illegal trade and its habitat destruction, rhinoceros are on UICN’s red list (Union Internationale pour la Conservation de la Nature – International union for nature preservation) “in critical danger of extinction”. Only the Southern white rhinoceros is “near threatened”. In fact, at the beginning of the XXe Century there were 500 000, in 1970 70 000 and about 29 000 rhinoceros in the world in 2016. Their population has only decreased and they could disappear within the next ten years.

This day is the perfect occasion to remind us the multiple dangers on animals.

Endangered rhinoceros

Four out of five living species of rhinoceros are endangered nowadays. We count about 58 Javan rhinoceros (Indonesia), 100 Sumatran (Indonesia and Malaisia), 3 300 unicorn (India and Nepal) and 5 000 black.

The white African rhinoceros is near threatened. We count between 19 000 and 21 000 white rhinoceros. However, the Northern white rhinoceros, a subspecies is extinct in the wild. Today, only 3 members live in a zoo in Kenya. The last male able to reproduce the species died in 2014.

Therefore the species is on the verge of extinction.

But what causes their disappearance?

A wanted horn!

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WWF

One kilo of horn is estimated between 50 000 and 70 000 dollars, about 45 000 to 65 000 euros on the black market. In comparison, ivory is worth 7 000 dollars and cocaine from 20 000 to 30 000 dollars. Last year, the horn trade brought back 320 million dollars (290 000 million euros), enough to attract non-scrupulous people and make them forget about nature respect.

Why do these horns are worth so much?

They are the object of a very lucrative market in Asia and more specifically in China, Vietnam and Thailand. It is told they have supposedly healing powers (anti-cancer in Vietnam), therapeutic (fever) and aphrodisiac in China. However, no study has demonstrated the benefits and according to Serge Lopez, president of the NGO Wildlife Angel, these rumors have been peddled by poachers themselves and especially the Vietnamese mafia and the Occidentals.

Moreover, the economic growth in Asia and in the Golf has shown the apparition of “new rich” people who use these horns as a social marker.

As this horn trade is very profitable and not risky, terrorists launched themselves in this market in Central, West and East Africa.

The horn trade is not about to stop and even has a tendency to increase. Thus in 2014 over 1 200 rhinoceros were killed in South Africa where 70% of the global population live when only 13 rhinoceros were killed in 2007. This is a major increase, over 9 000%, which is worrisome. 

A difficult protection to establish

Therefore, national parks and south african farms have to double their efforts in order to protect the rhinoceros population from poachers who always have better equipment and organization.

As explained by Serge Lopez (Wildlife Angel), national parks rangers are totally helpless against poachers. Most of the time, they are simple villagers while poachers use more and more sophisticated equipment such as military arms, silent guns or infrared goggles as stated by Vincent Barkas, CEO of Protack, a private security company based near Kruger national park. That’s why, NGO Wildlife Angel is now in charge of militarily training rangers from African national parks.

In south African farms, farmers spend around 18.5 million euros to protect their herds and many end up closing their domain.

Rhinoceros farms, a solution?

To answer these difficulties and dyke the illegal trade, rangers have decided to dehorn rhinoceros. Likewise, farmers in South Africa raise rhinoceros in order to legally sell their horns and stop illegal trades. Currently they are 330.

The principle is simple: they chase and anesthetize the animal to cut the horn with a saw leaving at least 5 cm above their base in order for the horn to grow back. Horns grow back 5 to 10 cm a year. Once horns have been cut, they are weighed, measured and tracked with an electronic chip and stored in highly secured deposit box.

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Rhinocéros décornés au Zimbabwe Source : L’OBS

They now hope to convince the global community and more specifically the Trade convention of endangered species “Convention du commerce d’espèces menaces d’extinction (CITES) to re-establish the legal trade of horn, forbidden since 1977. They believe that the only way to stop illegal trade and to legalize the horn trade is to flood the Asian market so there is no need to smuggle horns.

However, Will Travers, director of NGO Born Free absolutely refutes this argument. In fact, he recalls that the same idea was undertaken for the ivory trade in 2009 when 100 tonnes were put on the Asian market. Then, an increase in smuggling was observed, which discredits entirely the idea of legalizing the horn trade. Furthermore, fams also strengthen the commodification of animals and nature.

In any case, farms remain convenient places for reproduction and protection of rhinoceros in decline.

Alternatives

Thankfully, other solutions are under consideration.

Firstly, sensitization campaigns in Asian countries happen more and more with the help of some Asian stars.

The next step is to make the commercial value of horn decrease. For this, several solutions are on trial: paint the horn so it is unsaleable, cover it with a vomitive substance so that it is non-comestible or print keratin-made copies with the same digital print but ten times cheaper.

The destruction of habitats

Unfortunately, poaching is not the only reason for the disappearance of rhinoceros. The destruction of their habitat, especially in Asia is a big factor. Indeed, in South-Eastern Asia, the destruction of forests of low-lands isolates and separates herds. Therefore, they are unable to ensure the reproduction and genetic diversity.

Act for the protection of rhinoceros

To take part and denounce the threats on rhinoceros you can participate in the Global walk for wild animals on September 24th in Paris dedicated to all endangered animals.

You can also donate to specialized protection associations like this species such as Wildlife Angel, Rhinos.org or Savetherhino.org.

Finally, you can sign the petition launched by Serge Lopez (Wildlife Angel) enlist the French government against terrorism financing through the illegal trade of horns.

Petition here!

rhino-corne

Allison D.

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