Across Africa, two types of rhino roam the land–the black and white rhinos. Ranging from 2,000 to 4,000 pounds, these majestic herbivore creatures can live up to 40 years while growing up to 60 inches at the shoulder. They can even gallop to 30 miles per hour.
Unfortunately, they can’t outrun the terrible wave of poaching that has dropped both species’ population by nearly 98% since 1960.
In South Africa, both species are found in abundance–with the majority of white rhinos (nearly 19,000 at last count) living in the country while 40% of the black rhino population (over 1,900) resides in the country. Unfortunately, this places South Africa right in the center of the skyrocketing poaching crisis that plagues the rhino population. In 2014, a record number of rhinos were killed. Between January and August 2015, 749 rhinos were killed in South Africa. That’s up from the staggering-in-its-own-right 716 killed during the same period last year.
The problem is multi-faceted, with some blame falling squarely on South African shoulders. However, much of it can be focused on neighboring Mozambique and Kruger National Park, one of Africa’s largest game reserves. Designed as a reserve for animals, poachers are increasingly entering Kruger’s borders to poach animals of all varieties. This past year from January through August saw 138 poachers arrested inside Kruger compared to 81 during the same time last year.
This, in turn, has led the park–which shares a border with Mozambique and South Africa that spans over 200 miles–to aggressively hunt down poachers. In the last five years alone, nearly 500 poachers (cited as coming from Mozambique) have been killed by Kruger’s rangers. One reason much of the poaching issue comes from Mozambique is due to the nation being one of the world’s poorest. Desperate for income, many Mozambicans enter Kruger to acquire the ivory from rhinos and other animals to sell on the black market–largely to Asian nations that believe in the “healing” powers ivory has.
The country’s former president, Joaquim Chissano, told Vice how troubling this statistic is for the nation’s poor families. “Each of these Mozambicans dead means more poverty for his family, because they can no longer count on him to fight for better living conditions.”
Virtually avoiding the previous poaching of the mid-90s, South Africa sustained its rhino population by protecting and monitoring the population, as well as a partnership between the private and public sector. In South Africa today, roughly 25% of the rhino population are privately owned–though a prime incentive for private ownership comes from the profit of trophy hunts.
Other anti-poaching initiatives aren’t without controversy. From dehorning to dyeing its tusk to remove its allure, these potential solutions leave many uneasy. The procedures can be costly with limited applicability. When it comes to horn dyeing, the movement took a serious PR hit when a white rhino died during a dyeing demonstration in 2012. Despite the setback, the movement is still popular with conservationists. For a detailed look at their efforts, view the video below.
Other solutions include China, a large catalyst in the ivory sales, buying large portions of the market to devalue ivory prices. The move is controversial yet supported by trade and conservation groups alike. South Africa is considering a large one-off sale of such ivory in the next year or so. Another move aimed at flooding the market comes from California biotech company Pembient that intends to flood the black market with 3-D printed horns. The synthetic horn is nearly indistinguishable and much cheaper than authentic horn. If successful, this would undercut profits for poachers–hopefully making the practice no longer lucrative until the practice eventually shuts down.
These efforts are all well and good. Unfortunately, none of these are able to combat the problem today. The crisis is far from under control as the number seems to grow with each passing year. South Africa’s efforts to deter poachers now includes having the army on Kruger’s border with Mozambique. That, so far, hasn’t stopped the tragedy from continuing on. Just recently, South Africa’s iconic Ms. Long Horn became the latest victim to the disgusting practice.