The rhino population of South Africa has been in danger for years because of poachers killing for horns. Criminal groups are hunting down these endangered animals because an average rhino horn can fetch upwards of $150,000, or six times the price of a bar of gold.
Is Dehorning the Answer?
The horns are mainly being purchased by Asian countries like Vietnam, who falsely sell the ground up horns as a cure for cancer, enhanced virility, or even as a hangover remedy. While the rhino population keeps decreasing in numbers, conservationists have decided to take a drastic step forward — by cutting off horns before poachers can get to them. Rhino horns are made up of keratin (same protein that makes up human hair and fingernails) and will eventually grow back over time, so this practice will not hurt the rhinos. Park rangers are tranquilizing the rhinos, blindfolding them, and then sawing of their horns in hopes that it will deter poachers from killing them.
Banning Sales Would Be Better
There is also another major issue affecting the fate of the rhinos right now. Recently, the South African Supreme Court of Appeal overturned a moratorium on the sale of rhino horns domestically. Reversing a seven-year ban on domestic rhino horn sales, the court ruled in favor of rhino ranchers who wish to sell their stockpiles within the country. While an international ban is still in place on the sale of horns, the ruling still has many activists concerned that this decision will only open the door further to poachers looking to cash in on the precious horns.
To hold up the ruling of the Supreme Court, Minister of the Department of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa appealed the Supreme Court’s decision on June 8, 2016, which has temporarily put a stop to the court’s decision to lift the moratorium.
Another concern is the border between Mozambique and South Africa at Kruger National Park. Mozambique is where the majority poachers are coming from. The fence at the boundary separating the two countries has been trampled by elephants and rhinos, which rangers are saying is making Kruger into a “poacher’s paradise.”
While it seems like there is nothing but bad news, there are also positive things happening. A group of 26 women called the Black Mambas are helping armed guards patrol the Balue reserve to stop poachers. Since 2013, the Black Mambas have had an important role in the 76% reduction of the poaching inside the reserve.
There is also a man with a big vision to help save the rhinos in an unconventional way. Ray Dearlove, a former South African retiree who emigrated to Australia 30 years ago, is in the process of airlifting 80 rhinos to Australia. He is hoping that an ocean between poachers and rhinos will help save the population, and also allow for the population to grow bigger numbers without poachers.
The latest news from South Africa’s rhino population may seem depressing, but activists, rangers, and organizations alike are stepping up efforts to stop poaching. From dehorning rhinos before the poachers can get to them, to the Black Mambas patrolling the Balue, I hope that over the next few years I will be able to write positive news about our beloved rhinos.
Click here to read my previous article on the issue of rhino poaching in South Africa.