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Baby Rhinos, Bitter Tears

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The best adjective I can use on the southern white rhino's personality is "doglike." These animals wanted some love from us. We were happy to oblige.

They are warm, solid animals. Even the horn, which is made from fused hair, is warm. Everything about them is warm--their hearts and their soft-concrete skin. And inside the folds of their skin it is soft as silk.

The rhino's horn has long been thought in Asia to have medicinal properties; powdered down, it was the Viagra of the early 20th century. In addition, ceremonial sword hilts, much in demand in the Middle East, were carved from rhino horn (mostly that of black rhinos). In South Africa, southern white rhinos have been terribly persecuted by farmers and trophy hunters. They very nearly vanished by the beginning of the 20th century--down to less than 200 animals. 

The Wilds' beautiful bull rhino. Think what his horn is worth to heartless mercenaries. $65,000.00 per kilo is the current going rate.

Concerted efforts to breed them in captivity and protect the remaining animals (anyone else remember the National Geographic photos of rhinos, each with its own personal armed guard?) allowed them to rebound. The world population peaked around 20,000, 80% of which live in South Africa. There are now more individual southern whites than there are individuals of all other rhino species combined. But the game has abruptly changed, and we may never see that peak again.

Poachers still take them, now at a rate of


 despite the fact that almost all extant rhinos live in protected parks and game reserves. Living in a park does you no good when poachers are about. Rhino poaching is escalating at a horrifying rate in South Africa, the last stronghold for the southern white rhino.

This site  has detailed information on the increased demand for medicinally worthless powdered rhino horn in Asian markets, which is leading to a huge spike in rhino deaths. Three hundred thirty-three rhinos were slaughtered in 2010. This sickening number went up again in 2011. Despite the presence of 500 wardens in South Africa's Kruger National Park,  over half of the 448 rhinos killed were in the park. Already in January 2012, poachers have brutally slaughtered eleven animals, putting 2012 on track to be the worst year for rhinos ever in South Africa. I have seen rhinos browsing happily in Kruger Park, when poaching was a distant and unwelcome memory, and knowing this is happening again makes my stomach turn over.

In addition to the slaughter of white rhinos, 19 critically endangered black rhinos were killed in 2011, eight in Kruger Park alone. Poachers use high powered rifles and veterinary tranquilizers to dart rhinos before hacking off their horns. I watched a video of a rhino who woke up without his face, and that image will stay with me for life.

If you have ever laid a hand on a rhinoceros' kind head, scratching him around the ears and his big weepy eyes, knowing this should make you weep. Perhaps it does anyway. Is there no end to human greed and selfishness? Is there no end to the gullibility of people who believe in folkloric cures that must, oddly enough, be made from endangered species' odd parts, like tiger penises and rhino horns? (The more expensive it is, the better it must be!) The fable du jour driving this obscene slaughter is that powdered rhino horn (news flash!!) now not only enhances male potency but also cures cancer. So let's wipe out the rhinoceros, just eating their hair.  

I'm sorry. I am crying and spitting bullets at the same time, and that's not a good thing. But there is more to life than pecking at a computer, enjoying cute and cuddly animals. There is seeing that they survive into tomorrow.

If you would like to help:
See the International Rhino Foundation web site, which is working directly with South African authorities to supply antipoaching patrols with the funds and manpower they must have to make a difference.

This is Anan, a southern white rhino. This photo was taken a couple of years ago at The Wilds. In the interim, she's grown up into one of the adorable yearlings pictured above. 

May she live to see a world where people have finally realized that her hair is not medicine. Where she will be treasured, alive and running around on her spring-loaded feet, for the priceless gift she is.


I knew from the title of this post that I didn't want to read it... and also knew that that meant it was all the more important that I do read it!

How are these rhinos protected from poachers? Rhino horns are being stolen even from dead rhinos in museums Replica horns are being used on displays to prevent the real ones from being stolen. I worry that these rhinos are vulnerable even in Ohio. They need to be protected 24/7 by armed guards.

Thank you for writing this post; people need to know what's happening here.
At my study site four white rhinos (two cows and their 2-year-old calves) have been gunned down in the last few months. One of the cows (within weeks of giving birth) had her face hacked off with a panga as she lay unable to move due to a bullet in her spine; she bled to death.
It's just so disheartening because so many people here have been working hard to improve the situation (e.g. the army is now patrolling Kruger, and a week never goes by without some new fund-raising initiative) yet all this effort is having NO effect.

This on-going story--of animals poached and killed just for human vanity--has me so heart-sick I can hardly bear to read such a story. But I couldn't agree more.
It makes me crazy...enough said.

Breaking heart, angry spirit, and confirmation of my view that Earth is the organism and Humans are the cancer to be eradicated.

Posted by Amy Girten February 19, 2012 at 5:29 PM

It's for conservation that I so DESPERATELY want to go into zookeeping so that I can help better educate the public on stories like these. My heart breaks for all the endangered animals that people think are worth more dead than alive and ranging free.

I wonder if we all chipped in and supplied a ton of Viagra to these countries if once they find out about the "real" deal they would stop the slaughter. I saw an article that it has decreased the demand for tiger parts in China....

Posted by Anonymous February 23, 2012 at 1:41 PM
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