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Rhino conservation fundraiser on

Next Sunday, Aware Trust holds a Rhino Awareness Day hosted by Raintree in Umwinsidale.

OutDoor with Rosie Mitchell

With plenty of activities for all ages, stands to visit and talks on rhino conservation, this will be an enjoyable, environmentally focussed outing for the family.

Rhino conservation has never been so burningly urgent as it is right now. Remember the “Rhino Girls” — Charlene Hewat (one of the speakers at Sunday’s event) and Julie Edwards? Their epic bike ride down the entire length of Africa in the 1980s, spreading awareness of the imminent extinction of this species, and raising funds to fight their loss, achieved much to highlight the gravity of the situation.
There are many brave warriors in the struggle, another notable being award-winning Zimbabwean rhino researcher Raoul du Toit.

Just 26 years ago, the white (wide lipped) rhino, a grazer, was close to extinction, with as few as 50 alive in the wild. The species was brought back from this brink by the frenzied efforts of conservationists and by much awareness raising.

The black rhino, a browser, an easier target for poachers as it favours much thicker bush, remains in the greater jeopardy of the two species, though at least it is not extinct, which was very possible in the early 1990s.

We are lucky still to be able to see these amazing prehistoric looking creatures in Zimbabwe in some of our parks and conservancies, where they must of necessity be very heavily protected. Rhinos everywhere in Africa are under similar threat due to the voracious demand for their horns, which in fact have no medicinal value whatsoever.

Fuelled by tragic misconceptions arising from ignorance and superstition, there remain those who believe that the horn, the ingestion of which is no different from simply chewing your finger nails, has magical, aphrodisiacal or curative powers.

This is absolutely untrue and if you do nothing else in the fight to save southern Africa’s last remaining rhino, do this — tell people — anyone who will listen.

In late 2011, the Western Black Rhino and the Javan Rhinoceros in Vietnam were pronounced extinct and last month, the last remaining rhino in Mozambique was killed by poachers. At the turn of the 20th century there were around 500 000 rhinos worldwide.

Just seven decades later, that number dropped to 70 000 and today, less than 30 000 rhinos remain in the wild. From 1970 to 1992, poaching on an unprecedented scale shrunk the critically endangered black rhino population to just 4% of what it had been.

Today, 95% of all the rhinos left in the world have been brutally and cruelly slaughtered by illegal poachers for their horns. China and Vietnam are the destinations of most horn poached today.

It is in these countries that false beliefs about the supposed properties of their horn very sadly persist, driving the poaching and bringing us to this sorry moment in rhino history, when complete global extinction is very possible.

Previously, the Yemen significantly contributed to global demand for illegal rhino horn for use in making ceremonial dagger handles. After a massive decade long education campaign, that demand thankfully fell away.

Chinese and Vietnamese demand however, has not, it has instead escalated, driven by ignorance and greed, and threatens to undermine decades of conservation efforts. China is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), yet Chinese pharmaceutical companies continue to this day to make “medicines” derived from rhino horn.

Aware Trust is involved in rhino monitoring and dehorning projects in specific areas of Zimbabwe, and also assists in the close monitoring of rhino in these areas, by vehicle, foot patrol and using camera traps. Camera trap footage is impressive and very effective in monitoring these precious animals. All these initiatives require funding and it is hoped that the Rhino Awareness Day will help.

The poaching statistics

Following the massive rhino conservation efforts of the late 80s and the 90s, the immediate crisis was averted and by the end of 2007, rhino numbers were actually steadily increasing.

Then, in 2008, poaching once again intensified, with the Kruger National Park in South Africa particularly heavily targeted by sophisticated high-tech poachers.

South Africa lost 448 rhinos in 2011, 668 in 2012, and this year, 367 rhino have already been poached to date! Across Africa, over 1 000 rhinos have been killed by poachers in the past 18 months.

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