Today is World Rhino Day.
A day where rhino lovers worldwide celebrate this remarkable species and put a spotlight on the crises that threaten their survival. From rampant poaching to habitat loss, rhino populations are in serious trouble. At this rate, it is not surprising to imagine a world without any rhinos at all. Unless…we stand together and claim a different future for these gentle giants.
At first glance, rhinos can appear fierce and curmudgeonly, due to their physical prowess and formidable horns. In reality, they are non-confrontational creatures that typically shy away from humans and prefer to keep to the savannahs and forests where they live—unless they feel threatened.
Rhinos have lived on our planet for over 50 million years, evolving with the changing topography and climates. They migrated across many continents and even endured the ice age that wiped out many of their prehistoric cousins—like the mammoth, the saber-toothed cat, and the ancient crocodiles. Suffice to say, these survivors are tough.
Sadly, today rhinos are critically endangered and one of the most hunted animals in the world. According to the International Rhino Foundation, more than 500,000 rhinos once roamed across Asia and Africa at the beginning of the 20th century. By 1970, these numbers dropped to 70,000. Today, we have just 29,000 rhinos left in the wild. That is a statistic that deserves some serious consideration. The reasons for rhinos’ dramatic decline are many, the foremost being poaching and habitat loss. Rhino poaching is fueled by the high demand for rhino horns in Asia, which are mistakenly believed to cure ailments such as fevers, headaches, and even cancer. They are also considered to be a status symbol for the wealthy. Habitat loss is another ongoing threat. With the increase in human populations and the search for more land that can accommodate our growing numbers, rhinos are losing more and more of the wild places in which they commonly roam.
While the prognosis for rhinos might seem grim, there is hope, wildlife conservation organizations worldwide are working with governments and local communities to increase awareness around the illegal rhino horn trade, the poaching crisis, and the impact the loss of rhinos would have on our eco-systems. Stronger measures are being put in place to secure the areas in which rhinos live, from employing more park rangers and sniffer dogs, to creating sanctuaries and larger protected areas within national parks. In addition, scientists and conservationists have ramped up their efforts to actively monitor populations of rhinos to study the challenges they face and come up with viable solutions to protect them. One such organization is Wildlife ACT, an organization founded in 2009 and made up of experienced conservationists who work in the field 365 days a year to save endangered wildlife from extinction.
Wildlife ACT operates across multiple reserves in Africa—such as the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, Mkhuze, Tembe Elephant Park, Somkhanda Game Reserve and Zululand Rhino Reserve—to actively implement monitoring projects and anti-poaching measures. The team also works with local communities to educate them about rhinos and encourage them to be stewards for these disappearing mammals. Some of the challenges they face every day in their quest to protect this beloved animal include the constant threat of poaching, the increasing fragmentation of natural habitats, and the lack of resources and funds for expanding their research and monitoring reach. Despite these hurdles, they continue to fight for a better future for rhinos.
Let us stand together, today and every day, and do our part to raise awareness so that the killing of rhinos stops once and forever.