Rhinos: Wild or Captive?

By Haiven Furbush

Today we visited the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center (HESC). This is a facility that works with animals such as cheetahs, rhinos, vultures, African wild dogs, and lions. They use different methods to prepare these animals to eventually be released back into the wild, however this cannot always be done with particular animals, specifically rhinos. 

Rhinos feeding on hay in HESC facility

            Today at HESC was the first time I have ever seen a crash (group or herd) of rhinos, and unfortunately, still within fences like I and many others have seen within zoos. While sitting in the big game drive vehicle at the facility specifically for the rhinos, we had a discussion about the rhino horn trade, the troubles with poaching of rhinos, and the continuous debate on what is the best way to approach this major issue with these animals. This got me thinking and questioning what is truly best for these animals. I began to realize that even though these rhinos are within a facility that is supposed to prepare them for the wild and protect them, they will more than likely never be prepared for their most dangerous predators on this planet – a bullet, a rifle, and the man behind the trigger. So, the question then rises on whether or not these rhinos should ever be released into the wild if their only fate is found at the end of a barrel?             

Thomas, our game driver and guide, standing on the bridge above the Oliphants river within Kruger National Park.

            There are still concerns with keeping rhinos in captivity and all aspects should be considered. Once poachers run out of rhinos in the wild, they will ultimately turn to protected areas, like HESC, to collect rhino horns. So, which is better? In the wild or in captivity? I talked to Thomas our game driver and guide throughout our time here, and I asked him his opinion about Rhinos, and if they should be in captivity or should they be in the wild? Thomas then asked me “Would you like to be in captivity?” He continued to explain that rhinos do not do well in captivity and that they need to be in the wild so they can roam, be free, and live their lives. Thomas’s opinion was clear. There almost seems to be no solution, neither politically nor environmentally. However, this debate continues. Poachers are still poaching and unfortunately rhino populations are drawing closer to extinction.  

            Personally, I hope future generations are able to see these magnificent creatures. For now, education is key in order to spread the environmental importance of rhinos, as well as the extreme negative impacts the poaching industry is having on the nearly extinct rhino population. Is there any way to increase education? What are your thoughts on whether to keep rhinos in “safe” captivity or to just release them into the wild? 

Here is an image of three rhinos in the wild. There are two in the background a mother and her calf and clearly the one in front.

Madison Waggoner