Beyond Your Backyard: 🍃 The Faces of Poaching - Those Left Behind 🦏
Kimberly J. Epp
One year ago today, I wrote about the rhino poaching crisis in South Africa for our local paper. Several rhino mothers were killed brutally for their horns. Their calves were left behind to fend for themselves, not understanding why their mother's wouldn't wake up. Thirty-one white rhinos were poached during the first weekend of July last year in South Africa. In the African province of Kwa Zuly-Natal, 139 had been butchered by this very time last year. Since 2007, more than 6,000 rhinos had been butchered, with 4,000 of those from 2013 to 2017 alone. South Africa is home to over 80 per cent of the world's rhinos.
Much of this poaching we don't hear about. The locations of private rhino farms are kept secret to help better protect the rhinos. Yet they still do get found, and often by the light of a full moon. Poachers have shown they have little mercy, even attacking rhino calves (and a worker) in the South African Rhino Orphanage in 2017. It's a war, a combat zone of sorts, never before as dangerous as in recent years. This horn is thought by the Vietnamese, the Chinese and other Asian countries to have certain aphrodisiac properties - which has of course, been scientifically disproved.
A kilo of rhino horn is worth around $30,000 (Cdn). A kilo of gold, in comparison is worth $25,000. Asian countries are wiping the animal out that carries this valuable "product", at a rate faster than could ever be replaced - all for a horn that would grow back. Rhino horn is made out of keratin, the same compound found in your fingernails. At this rate, the Northern White Rhino won't be the only rhino species to go extinct during our lifetime. Basically a rhino is killed in Africa every 8 hours. We may lose all remaining rhino species within 2 decades.
The Black Rhino is a critically endangered species. From a population in the 1970's of almost 70,000, there are now 5,000 Black Rhinos left in the wild. White Rhinos, of which there are 20,000 in the wild, are the second largest land mammal in the world after the elephant. It's a dangerous job trying to protect one of the most endangered species on earth. The recent death of Sudan was a loss - and except for two remaining females, the Northern White Rhino species has basically been wiped out by poaching.
A recent poaching incident in the Kragga Kamma game park, East Cape, South Africa caught the headlines with a 20 year old White Rhino and her calf. The poaching victim, Bella, had recently had her horn removed. Only a centimeter of horn had grown back. The growth rate is 10 centimetres of growth a year. For that 1 centimetre of horn and horn base she was brutally killed, all while her calf Tank, her 16 month old calf, watched on. He was discovered trying to befriend other rhinos. Once he was rescued, Tank was inconsolable. He screamed for his mother incessantly.
Tank is the face left behind by poaching. What kind of a human can do such a thing? Have we lost all humanity? Thankfully, Tank is one of the lucky calves, now making new friends and slowly being accepted by a new adoptive mother. But can he recover from his emotional wounds? Time will only tell. He is just one of the many faces left behind. We are all rooting for his future. As for the future of poaching, it seems poachers are always a step ahead. We must look at the countries fueling the poaching of many species, rather than just the poachers themselves - because no more precious young faces should ever be left behind.
Epp is an Environmental Educator and Writer, with over 25 years of experience in environmental education, enforcement, research, management and writing.