Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Rhinos in Crisis on World Rhino Day

22 September 2016

Categories: Homepage News, Wildlife Trade News

Thursday 22nd September 2016 is World Rhino Day, a day on which the world should be celebrating these amazing animals.

But rhinos face a real and ongoing crisis.

The biggest threat to the future of rhinos is from poaching for their horns. Rhino horn is largely composed of keratin, like hair and fingernails, and has no known medicinal properties. However, it is highly prized as a medicine, show of wealth, and investment product in parts of Asia, where it fetches astronomical prices.

South Africa has seen the highest levels of poaching. In spite of increased efforts to protect rhinos on public and private land, more than 5,000 of the country’s white and black rhino have been slaughtered for their horns over the past 10 years, and the crisis shows no sign of abating. Between 2013 and 2015, India lost a total of 91 rhinos to poachers. More recently, new poaching hotspots have emerged in Namibia and Zimbabwe.

Born Free’s Associate Director Mark Jones, who is also co-chair of the Species Survival network’s Rhino Working Group, said: “World Rhino Day is a day on which we are supposed to be celebrating these remarkable, ancient and noble creatures. Sadly, we’re having to use this day to once again highlight the crisis rhinos face, and the cold hard fact that unless we get this crisis under control and soon, there may not be any rhinos left to celebrate on future World Rhino Days.”

Rhino horn is largely made up of keratin, like hair and fingernails, and has no known medicinal value. Yet demand has soared in recent years following a rumour in Vietnam that it could be used as a cure for cancer. International trade in rhino horn was banned in the late 1970s when rhinos were placed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), but the lure of vast black market profits, particularly in Vietnam and China, has attracted the attention of criminal gangs and syndicates who now control the poaching and trafficking.

World Rhino Day comes the day before the Conference of the Parties to CITES opens in Johannesburg, South Africa. At that meeting, Swaziland will propose that trade in rhino horn derived from its tiny population of rhinos should be legalised, in an attempt to generate funds for its National Parks. However, Born Free argues that such a trade mechanism will never satisfy the demand. Instead it will only legitimise the product in the eyes of consumers, and bring many more of them into the market, while giving the illegal traders a means to ‘launder’ illegal horn into the market and putting rhinos at even greater risk from poaching.

“We cannot trade our way out of this crisis”, added Jones. “The world need s to understand that rhino horn belongs to rhinos, and that anyone looking to profit from the slaughter of rhinos and the trade in their horns will suffer serious consequences. We must not allow these animals to disappear on our watch at the hands of criminals.”

A team from Born Free are attending the CITES meeting in Johannesburg, and will be pressing for the best possible outcomes for rhinos.

  • Once common across much of what is now Africa, Eurasia and North America, today less than 30,000 rhino belonging to 5 species remain.
  • The most numerous is the southern white rhino, with just over 20,000 spread across 9 southern and eastern African countries. South Africa is home to around 90%.
  • Black rhinos, which are considered to be critically endangered, number just over 5,000 across 10 southern and eastern African countries. Namibia and South Africa have the largest share
  • Approximately 3,200 vulnerable one-horned rhino live in India and Nepal. The majority live in Kaziranga National Park in the Indian State of Assam
  • Indonesia is home to the last few remaining Sumatran (around 76) and Javan (around 63) rhinos, both of which are critically endangered
  • For more information on the rhino discussions due to take place at CITES see this document

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