Rhinoceros in the wild

Our last chance to save the rhinos

On the occasion of World Rhinoceros Day, recently celebrated, the NGO Fauna & Flora International draws attention to the urgency of taking measures to guarantee the survival of this species, at risk of extinction due to poaching and the trade in its horns.

In Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Nature Reserve, trained anti-poaching dogs, along with the involvement of local communities, are enabling sustained growth in rhino populations.

Recently, World Rhinoceros Day has been celebrated, a good reason to draw everyone’s attention from people and institutions committed to the same desire: their survival, making it possible for all threatened rhinoceros species to survive for the next century. While the Indian rhinos maintain the type in extremis, those of Sumatra and Java have already entered the spiral that will lead them to extinction, and the same happens with the subspecies of African white rhinoceros, which with a single living male staggers to the ground.

The drive for rhino horn has been fueled not only by demand in areas of Asia but also as a result of instability and insecurity in the areas of Africa where they live, which has increased its value. As a result, it has become a coveted object of trade for ruthless criminal gangs. Thus, the illegal trade in rhinoceros horn has been incorporated into the illegal traffic of arms, drugs and people, since, as in these cases, the risk is acceptable given the economic benefits it brings.

There is no time to lose, the stakes are high. What can we change? What can we do to avoid the end to which the rhinos are headed? The statistics for rhino poaching offer very grim numbers. In the last three years the loss of rhinos in Africa has reached a rate of more than three animals a day , about 3,000 of them in South Africa.

If this continues, the tipping point will come in a couple of years, when deaths exceed births, at which point the total number of rhinos will plummet. Therefore, to avoid this horrible outcome we need to reduce the demand for rhino horn and ensure that rhinos reproduce faster than they are killed by hunters.

To complete the first objective we need to join forces to reduce the demand for rhino horn . There are many and very different people currently involved in this, from Prince William of England, who talks with the Government and the people of China, to Richard Branson, owner of the Virgin group, who is helping to develop strategies to stop this market with Vietnam business leaders. If these conversations turn the tide and reduce demand for rhino horn, the basic laws of the economy will reduce the incentives for poachers and make hunting unprofitable.

But for this, it is equally crucial to develop protective measures in collaboration with local populations. This activity is where Fauna & Flora International, an NGO dedicated to the conservation of biodiversity, is currently concentrating its efforts, with the idea that more rhinoceros populations can be stabilized and started to grow in Africa. Of the African countries with the largest range of rhinoceros distribution – South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya – it has been in the latter where only four rhinos have fallen to the hands of hunters and the protection measures that have been developed in this regard in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy nature reserve.

Ol Pejeta Conservancy is currently home to more than 100 black rhinos. The largest population of black rhinoceros in East Africa is concentrated there, and its population is growing at a rate of 5% per year. In the last two years, new rhinoceros populations have been established on private and communal lands constituted as conservation areas, which has opened the possibility of increasing the number of grasslands available for rhinos provided that local protection efforts are combined. In Ol Pejeta, dogs specially trained against poaching, like the one we have the opportunity to present, Diego, are a valuable help in the protection of this population .

This work is done concurrently with local community development programs, which are fully established, and their involvement has proven to be an effective way to reinforce local rhino protection programs. But, in addition, the dogs are appreciated by the communities around Ol Pejeta, as their tracking capabilities have been put at the service of those communities for other tasks, such as solving crimes, mostly robberies but also murders.

The role of communities living alongside rhino habitat is crucial, and engaging them is critical. In Mozambique, for example, along the fringes of South Africa’s Kruger National Park, a profitable economy has been established among communities based on the benefits of the illegal trade in rhino horn. This situation can be reversed, as the action carried out in Ol Pejeta in Kenya has shown, but it also offers a future.

Transforming an economy that leads to the extermination of the ‘product’ into one where communities can see their own sustainability by focusing their interest, including economic incentives, on the conservation of biodiversity, will make them act as the first line of defense. Where the risks of detecting and stopping poaching outweigh the benefits, the balance always swings in favor of rhinos and, ultimately, local communities. By strengthening these models of sustainability, rhinos will be able to survive. Thanks to the solidarity of all and the joint work of humans and dogs, we will be ensuring their survival.

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