The Rhino Poaching Crisis

In 2007, a total of 13 rhinos were poached in South Africa.

By 2014, that number increased 9,346% to 1,215.

Yes, you read that correctly. In seven short years, the poaching crisis in South Africa has increased over 9,300%.

Globally, there are about 29,000 wild rhinos remaining, spread over five species. Two of these species, the Javan and Sumatran rhinos, each have less than 100 animals left. The northern subspecies of the white rhino has only 5. To put this number in perspective, a little over a century ago, there were over half a million rhinos.

Industry professionals, like those of us here at Global Conservation Force, used to say that the northern white rhino would go extinct during our lifetime. This is still true, but we can now also say that if something isn’t done to stop this crisis in the next couple of years, all wild rhinos will be gone by 2030.

Why, in the last seven years, has rhino poaching become so prevalent?

The answer is, at its simplest, demand. In some cultures, rhino horn is viewed as a medicine: a cure-all for deadly diseases, or an aphrodisiac. In other cultures, rhino horn is prized as a status symbol.

Those who would use rhino horn as a medicine can sometimes be dissuaded by looking at the science: rhino horn is entirely made of keratin, the same protein that makes up our hair and fingernails, and has about the same medicinal properties as eating your hair. However, even this isn’t enough to stop most consumers. It’s not always easy to steer public opinion on medical issues, even if they’re for the greater good, as evidenced by the vaccine debate in the United States.

The demand that comes from a cultural belief in the power and mysticism of such a large animal is much harder to counter. The only thing that works with those buyers is education, and the hope that those who are educated will weigh the rhino’s lives against their belief system and choose the rhinos.

Of course, no matter how you approach the buyers, rhino horn is a lucrative business to the people who supply it. No amount of convincing will work on them, and they counteract our education and conservation efforts at every turn.

It’s not a simple issue. This is why it’s so important to work at the source—the poachers—and not just the consumer side of the market.

But we can also work through you. The more we spread the information about what’s happening to rhinos, and the more people learn and share with each other, the better chance we have of making a difference.

With that in mind, here are some things to consider when talking about the rhino poaching crisis:

We’ve already talked about the 9,300% increase in poaching deaths from 2007 to 2014. The 2015 numbers are where things get tricky. Publicly, only 666 rhinos have been poached as of June this year. You’ll note the use of the word “publicly”. The South African government is suffering under the pressure of increasing global awareness of the crisis. Corruption is rampant there, and underreporting the numbers takes pressure off the lax, inefficient government. GCF, however, has connections to rangers, veterinarians, and animal rehab teams, all reporting numbers for 2015 that are on track to exceed 2014 by a couple hundred.

A few notes about all of these figures:

  • The rhinos counted as poached include animals who were killed but left with horns intact, as well as babies who died because their mother was killed.
  • The numbers for rhinos poached are for South Africa only. Global rhino losses are difficult to track.

This is why the work we do here at GCF is so important. We’re running out of time to keep these animals on Earth.

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