An eight-year-old rhino walks after being tagged with a GPS device at the Mafikeng Game Reserve in South Africa's North-West province. (Reuters file photo)
Do something and fast, say rhino experts.
Rhinos, those huge, lumbering herbivores, are fast approaching a tipping point, with poaching deaths nearly outnumbering births after two decades of population recovery, say wildlife experts.
“This is simply unsustainable and is a serious threat to the conservation gains of the last several decades,” said Susie Ellis, executive director of International Rhino Foundation in a statement.
Experts from Zimbabwe, South Africa, Indonesia, India and the U.S. gathered in Tampa, Fla., last week and released a report titled “state of the rhino,” which contains some disturbing statistics.
The number of rhino poached for their horns in just South Africa since January 2013 has gone up to 827. By September, poaching numbers in the country topped the annual record of 668 set in 2012 — that amounts to two rhinos killed each day. Compare this with numbers from 2007 when only 13 rhinos were poached in South Africa.
So why are rhinos being killed?
Because their horns are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in South-East Asian countries like Vietnam. Though the weight of rhino horns varies, an individual horn can fetch up to $350,000 and a kilogram of the horn sells for as much as $65,000.
In Vietnam, it is believed that the rhinos horn has miraculous healing properties, including a cure for cancer.
Meanwhile, all five living species of rhinos face threats: from poaching, from forest loss and human encroachment. But two of those species — Indonesia’s Javan and Sumatran rhinos — remain close to extinction as two of the world’s most endangered large mammals.
There are maybe 44 Javan rhinos in the wild, and 100 Sumatran rhinos. The two sub-species only survive in parts of Indonesia.
Raveena Aulakh is the Toronto Star’s environment reporter. She is intrigued by climate change and its impact, now and long-term. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh