The world’s 5 rhino species (white, black, greater one-horned, Sumatran and Javan) are facing a poaching crisis of alarming proportions and many fear that extinction looms for one of our planets most charismatic animals if effective action cannot be taken now.

Rhino numbers

The following population estimates speak to the precariousness of the rhino’s present situation: In Asia, 27-44 Javan rhino, 150-200 Sumatran rhino and 2,850 greater one-horned rhino and in Africa roughly 21,000 white rhino and perhaps 4,800 black rhino (down from 100,000 in 1960) are left in the wild.

Unprecedented levels of poaching

Most of Africa’s rhinos are found in South Africa and rates of poaching are escalating. Between 1990 and 2005 only 14 rhinos were poached each year on average. Despite having the continents best developed anti-poaching structure, in 2008 this jumped to 83, in 2009 it was 122, in 2010 it more than doubled to 333 and in 2011 448 rhinos were killed. With 394 rhino’s already killed this year, it is predicted that more than 530 and perhaps as many as 600 rhino’s will be poached this year.

Why the demand?

Despite the restrictions put in place by CITES related to rhino horn trade, poaching  is now a sophisticated and lucrative high stakes affair, fuelled by a seemingly insatiable illegal market based on traditional Asian medicine. This is especially the case in countries like China and Viet Nam where it is falsely believed that consuming rhino horn can boost sexual performance and combat diseases including cancer. Increasingly, some of Asia’s growing wealthy class are also buying rhino horn as an investment commodity and buyers are willing to pay more than £30,000 per Kg. Rhino horn is therefore worth more than its weight in gold.

What can be done?

The current poaching crisis in South Africa has provoked a huge debate about the best way to stop poaching and save rhino populations. In the short-term, greater investments are being made in law enforcement with mixed results due to the incentive for unscrupulous wildlife managers to get involved with the illegal trade. The legalization of trade in ivory horn is also being proposed as a means of raising additional funds to conserve wild rhino’s, but as Born Free CEO Will Travers explains, this is a flawed argument from a variety of perspectives:

Read Will Travers article in Africa Geographic

Follow further discussion on the Rhino horn trade debate

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