Wednesday 17 December 2014

One less reason to go to San Diego

It was too cold when I was in Chicago in October for the Lincoln Park Zoo rhinos to venture out. I went three times to see if they'd emerged, but though I could hear them thumping around inside their stable, they stayed tucked away in the warm. I sympathised - I was finding it pretty chilly myself - but it was disappointing, especially as they had a baby black rhino.

I have seen, and had my toes sucked by, babies before, in South Africa at an orphanage that takes in the survivors from poaching attacks. Sometimes they have to have wounds dressed from being slashed at with the poachers' machetes, to keep them away from the mother, while the horns are being hacked off her face to send to China and Vietnam for huge sums of money to make pretend medicine. The babies wail, and it's a heart-breaking sound.

It's a noise that's echoed through the African bush more often this year than ever before. In 2000, for comparison, just six rhino were killed by poachers in South Africa. That was the end of the good times for rhino. Last year the toll was 1004 - and this year, so far, it's reached 1116. That's a lot of wailing, and not just from orphaned babies. There are so many people working so hard in all the African countries that still have rhino populations, to protect and preserve them, and it's getting more and more difficult not to see it as a losing battle.
Don't be fooled by the apparently big numbers: 20,000 white rhino still alive in Africa, and 5,000 black rhino. The tipping point has now been reached, where reproduction rates can't cancel out the poaching losses. It's all downhill from here, unless something more is done. Just the other day, at San Diego Zoo, one of the last 6 northern white rhino, a sub-species, died of old age. Now there are only 5 left in the entire world, all of them in zoos, and all getting older and older.

There is a plan to take 100 rhino to Botswana - where they have a shoot-to-kill policy with poachers - to keep them as an insurance policy against their loss elsewhere. There's even a project, still in its early stages, to do the same thing in Australia. How strange it would be, to see rhino grazing in the Outback! These are immensely expensive undertakings, and it's heartening that people are prepared to take them on - but they're stop-gap measures. What's really needed is to halt the demand from the end markets, to make it harder, physically and socially, to be a poacher, and to strengthen the protection already being given to rhino in Africa (and Nepal, and Java, and Sumatra).

All those things are happening already, but it costs money. Can you send some to help? I have.

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