By Lindsay Cocotis
We are a bit farther than halfway into the trip and a lot has been on my mind involving the issues of endangered species. I came here with the perception that elephants were the most rapidly decreasing species here and that they were the most vulnerable to poaching. I have now learned that that is not actually the case and I was very surprised to hear it is actually Rhino that are the most threatened species currently and that it is in fact not even a close comparison at all.
This brought up lots of thoughts and feelings for me, first being confusion for why there is a lack of accurate knowledge back where we live. I’d seen multiple documentaries of elephant poaching and the tusk exchange. However, I’d barely heard anything surrounding the industry for Rhino horns even when their horn has become the most valuable substance in the world?!?! Even before diamonds and cocaine!! That is so crazy to me and not only terrifies me for their existence and how little time the species may have to survive but also for the sanity and perceptions of our modern societies as the reasoning for this is entirely false.
It angers me so much that a Rhino horn is considered such a precious commodity while all the reasoning for its expensive value has been PROVEN to be vastly inaccurate. It is widely believed throughout a multitude of societies that Rhino horn can not only grant you good luck but can also cure anything from hangovers to fatal diseases and/or illnesses.
Each of these claims for Rhino horns have been scientifically proven to be false after numerous studies and it shocks me that the publication of this has yet to influence the industry for the horns. How can people just ignore the facts and be okay with contributing to the annihilation of an entire species?
It disgusts me that even the animal sanctuary we went to earlier on this trip is constantly on red-alert for poachers that could come in and de-horn their Rhinos which then results in the death of these Rhinos either due to blood loss if sedated or simply death upon gunfire. This also then raises the question if the Rhinos are even better off in the sanctuary at all. However, in my opinion, when put into perspective, their chances of survival are much higher in captivity then if they were roaming free in the wild, then being much more accessible to poachers and not to mention predators. At least this way in the sanctuary tourists can benefit for seeing them animals themselves and then hopefully learn to care for the species enough to act themselves to stop practices like this.
Something that also interests me is the idea of the government de-horning the Rhinos around South Africa safely without killing them to then make them less valuable for poachers to attack. However, there are still several disadvantages by doing this. First off, in order to avoid the Rhino dying from blood loss, you would not be able to remove the entire horn due to the fact a small portion of the horn is located underneath the skin rapped in tendons and such and unfortunately even this small amount of Rhino horn is still worth a great deal of money.
Another that specifically hurts my heart is the fact that mother Rhinos use their horn to guide their young as they walk in front of them. Due to baby rhinos being very tempting to predators, they are always seen basically attached to their mother’s side as no predator, even lions, can withstand the strength of an adult rhino, its horn, and its parental wrath. So therefore, if conservationists were to go out and de horn on the rhinos, several aspects of their lifestyle would be tampered with.
Another aspect of the Rhino issue is that, due to their placement on the “Big 5” list of South Africa, any even slightly prestigious game reserve that claims to have all of the Big 5 would then be broadcasting a relatively small area of where they are to the entire public, therefore clear and accessible to poachers. Our group even stayed in a luxurious game reserve during our trip and we weren’t even allowed to post any picture or evidence that we even saw Rhinos there at all. But I couldn’t help thinking, why does that even matter if it is already stated that they have Rhinos there anyways?
All in all, this reality makes me very sad and scared for our future and not to mention, the Rhinos future. However, I want to work to turn this negative energy into motivation to act against this injustice. I believe it is necessary for me and everyone who cares enough for our natural world to do their part to reverse the ill-intentioned human havoc that our species has put on so many other species against their will. I hope with more people standing together and educating the public that soon we can really make a difference.