On November 10, 2011, The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared Africa’s Western Black Rhino to be officially extinct. The news came amid talks that the Javan Rhino in Vietnam was also extinct.
According to the International Rhino Foundation (IRF), Rhinos have existed on earth for more than 50 million years. In the past, rhinos were much more widespread and could be found in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America. Currently, there are only 5 Rhino subspecies remaining and all of these subspecies are under threat. The IRF estimates that there are approximately 20,150 remaining white rhinos, 4,860 black rhinos, 2,850 greater one-horned rhinos, 200 Sumatran rhinos, and under 44 Javan rhinos left.
Alarmingly, the IRF noted that between 1970 and 1992, the population of black rhinos decreased by 96%. For instance, in 1970, there was an estimated 65,000 black rhinos in Africa. However, by 1993, there were only approximately 2,300 surviving black rhinos in the wild. Furthermore, the last Javan rhino in Vietnam was shot dead by poachers in 2010. Now the Javan rhino can only be found in Indonesia’s Ujung Kulon National Park.
What has caused such a pronounced rate of decline for the rhinoceros? Sadly, poachers are to blame for much of the decline of the rhinoceros. Poaching is the leading cause of endangerment and extinction for all rhino subspecies. Poachers kill rhinos for their horns believing that the horn can cure or fend off a wide range of illnesses such as cancer, rheumatism, gout and physical ailments like fever and headache. Sadly, a prominent Vietnamese Official declared that the rhino horn cured his cancer, which spurred an increase in demand for horns in Vietnam. However, there is no scientific evidence to support this claim and interestingly, rhinoceros horns consist mainly of keratin which is also found in human hair and nails.
Conservation groups, such as IUCN and the IRF, have worked diligently to bring back rhinos from the brink of extinction with conservation programs created to manage rhino habitats and thus, improve breeding performance. For instance, the IRF has helped ensure the safety of rhinos by monitoring the well-being of these animals through anti-poaching patrols and rhino operation teams which provide regular veterinary care, remove snares and bullets, and relocate at-risk rhinos to safer places.
However, when conservation methods are not implemented, the rhinoceros is vulnerable to destructive poaching practices and ultimately death. Therefore, members of conservation groups strongly suggest that conservation methods be strengthened and applied vigilantly if we are to stop the endangerment and extinction of the rhinoceros.
Although the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) outlawed the international trade of rhinoceros and its parts by 1977, the laws were changed to allow the trade of white rhinos and its’ parts in South Africa in 1994 and in Swaziland in 2004. Some believe that these changes in the law have made it more difficult to monitor illegal poaching activities. So what should be done? Conservationists strongly advocate consistent legislation and enforcement and strict penalties for the poaching and trading of rhino horns. For more information on how you can help fight the endangerment and extinction of the rhinoceros, check out the IRF’s website, http://www.rhinos-irf.org/.
Photo credit: fws.gov/endangered/news/bulletin-spring2010/enhancing-the-survival-of-the-javan-rhino.html