For me, walking in the footsteps of a rhino is a way of transporting myself into an ancient, bygone era. There is something about those three enormous, strangely shaped toes, the deeply wrinkled underfoot and the sound of its thick hide scratching against the brush that makes you feel as though you are tracking a dinosaur. In the early 20th century, about 500 000 of these magnificent creatures roamed through Africa and Asia and many people would have had the opportunity to walk in their footsteps. Sadly today, however, we are living in one of the last places on earth with a healthy southern white rhino population. Being World Rhino Day, we therefore take this opportunity to celebrate these magnificent animals and look to how we can better conserve them for the generations to follow.
Due to rhino horn’s ever-increasing value and demand, particularly in Asia, rhinos all over the world are seriously under threat. In South Africa the number of rhinos being killed annually is increasing at an alarming rate and where just 13 rhino were killed in 2007, last year we lost 1215 rhinos to poachers in South Africa alone. Most of these rhinos are being killed in the Kruger National Park, eventually the same greater area that the beloved rhinos we view at Londolozi could roam too.
Rhino horn has been used in traditional Chinese and Vietnamese medicine for as long as 1800 years, as a supposed elixir for fever and liver problems. However the demand for it was relatively low and rhino horn only fetched a price of about $250-500/kg in the early 1990s. Sadly, however, new belief systems have arisen and a rumour that rhino horn helped to cure cancer in a Vietnamese politician as well as acts as a potent aphrodisiac has caused a massive resurgence in its use. These beliefs have no foundation in western medicine and Huijun Shen, the president of the UK Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine explained that there’s no record of using rhino horn to treat cancer in nearly two millennia of Chinese medical texts. With the massive rise in Vietnamese wealth (Vietnam’s tally of multimillionaires has grown by 150% in the last five years) and the use of rhino horn as a party drug, hangover cure and status symbol, the demand and value for rhino horn continues to grow. Rhino horn now carries a whopping, $60 000- $100 000/kg price tag.With wild animals wandering around, carrying appendages more valuable than gold on their faces, you can understand why they have become such a difficult animal to protect.
All five remaining rhinos species are listed on the IUCN list of threatened species, with three out of five species classified as critically endangered but if we look at the history of rhino conservation, we know that there is still hope yet. The Southern White Rhino, the rhino we see regularly on Londolozi, has proven its resilience as a subspecies and where their numbers were as low as just 50 in the wild in the early 1900s, this subspecies has now increased to over 20,000 in recent years. Given the opportunity and a safe space within which to roam, we know that the white rhino can reproduce and flourish incredibly successfully.
On this day, we would also like to not only celebrate our rhino but also take the opportunity to thank our rangers, trackers and guests who are a consistent presence, watching over these great beasts on Londolozi as well as celebrate our anti-poaching teams who work tirelessly to protect these animals. Although we need to be aware of the extent to which rhino poaching has permeated our natural areas, we must also remember how far we have come and what we have achieved in recent history. With these successes fresh in our minds, lets commit ourselves anew to protecting one of the world’s most iconic animals so that walking in the footsteps of these giants does not end with this generation.