I saw a rhino the other week. Out on training walk for the TGO Challenge, I took a footpath that led me along the edge of the nearby safari park, letting me look through the heavy security fence, and watch as it trundled over the plains of Bedfordshire.
It was a white rhino. Although it wasn’t remotely white; rather a dark grey. Not even the pale sort of grey, the grey that you might be able to call off-white in the wrong light. Just plain dark grey. Its name actually comes from a mistranslation of the Afrikaans for wide, referring to the animal’s mouth, which is wider than that of the black rhino. Incidentally, the black rhino is also dark grey in colour, although they just happen to be very slightly darker shades of grey than the white rhino.
If it was the other way round, then people would just get mad, which is unfortunate since there are many better things to get angry about regarding rhinos, such as what happens to their horns.
What happens to rhino horn?
Rhino horn has a reported street value of US$65,000 (about £4,300) a kilo. A major part of the trade is driven by fashion. In Yemen, rhino horn is used for the carved handles of ceremonial daggers called jambiya. These daggers are presented to Yemeni boys, ostentatiously as a symbol of religiosity, wealth and, well, manliness. Essentially, they’re costume jewellery. Bits of bling.
The majority, however, is destined for use in traditional medicine in South East Asia. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) rhino horn has been ascribed curative properties for ailments ranging from fever and rheumatism to “devil possession”. In recent years, it has also become fashionable as a hangover cure in Vietnam.
A number of studies examined the medicinal properties of rhino horn, including Hoffman-LaRoche (1983), the Chinese University of Hong Kong (1990) and the Zoological Society of London (2008). They all reached the same conclusion: rhino horn is of no use to anyone except the original owner.
What does that mean for the rhinos?
This magnificent creature is being hunted to extinction for a few fancy daggers and a profoundly unconvincing medical tradition. Rhino poaching across Africa has reached an all time high, with more than 1,200 animals killed just in South Africa in 2014 (South African Department of Environmental Affairs). This translates as one rhino being killed every seven hours. And that statistic is based on carcasses that get discovered, many more will go unreported.
Right now, we’re at a tipping point. More rhinos are killed each year than are born in to existing populations. Black rhinos are classified as critically endangered, with one subspecies, the Western Black Rhino, declared extinct in 2011. White rhinos are faring somewhat better, the result of extensive conservation efforts in Southern Africa, although only a few individuals remain of the Northern White Rhino subspecies, all in captivity. Without a significant and sustained effort to protect rhinos now, they will become extinct within our lifetimes, if not the next 20 years. Completely gone from the wild.
Extinction isn’t just about the loss of a species or two, but the fragmentation of the delicate web that connects all living things within an ecosystem. Without rhinos, the distinctive landscapes of Africa will be changed forever.
What is being done to prevent this?
Rhinos Without Borders, (RWB), a conservation project conceived by Dereck and Beverly Joubert of Great Plains Foundation, National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence, in partnership with &Beyond, aims to translocate 100 rhinos from reserves in South Africa to Botswana. 80% of Africa’s rhinos are found in South Africa, and the relocation effort will establish new, viable, populations in areas with lower densities of the animals, thus “spreading the risk”. Botswana also has much more stringent anti-poaching laws to protect the animals.
Join me and more than 100 other travel bloggers in supporting the #JustOneRhino initiative. Led by Travelers Building Change and Green Travel Media, we want to raise $45,000 so RWB can move one rhino to a safer home in Botswana. 100% of the proceeds raised will be used to fund the rhino relocation process. It may seem like a lot of money, but this kind of initiative takes a small army of specialists, including rangers, vets and pilots, plus vehicles and helicopters, not to mention several months of planning and preparation.
Why should I help?
If the warm, fuzzy feeling of saving the world isn’t enough, loads of generous sponsors are supporting the campaign by are offering prizes to people who make a donation. These range from once-in-a-lifetime holidays, to exclusive experiences, to great travel gear, including:
- 10-day Galapagos Voyage for one with International Expeditions worth US$5,298.
- 9-day South Africa Safari Big 5 Safari in Kruger National Park and KwaZulu-Natal for 2 people from Adventure Life worth more than US$6,000.
- 10 nights’ stay at Yemaya Island Hideaway and Spa, Little Corn Island, Nicaragua, for two people from Yemaya Resorts, worth US$5,241.
- 7 nights bed and breakfast in a Garden View Suite with Cobblers Cove Hotel, Barbados, worth US$5,187.
- Multiple prizes from Secret Retreats, for 3-night stays at various locations in Southeast Asia (including Bali, Indonesia, Koh Samui, Thailand, Koh Kong, Cambodia and Palawan, Philippines) Five winners, each for two people, worth US$900-US$1,500 each.
- Plus much more.
All donors will receive a selection of rhino photographs taken by the Jouberts.
Help spread the word, and share this post on social media with the #JustOneRhino hashtag. The fundraiser is open until the very end of February, with prizewinners announced on March 3rd, World Wildlife Day.
Best of luck!