World, Africa, Environment

Rhino population rising but still under threat: NGO

Horns' use as traditional medicine, status symbol used to display success, wealth endangers rhino population worldwide

Burak Bir   | 02.04.2020
Rhino population rising but still under threat: NGO


Despite a promising rise in Africa’s black rhino population, the species remains critically endangered, as poaching and demand for their horns persist across the continent and worldwide. 

On March 19, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced that between 2012 and 2018, the black rhino population grew at an annual rate of 2.5% from an estimated 4,845 to 5,630 animals in the wild.

But the conservation body warned that the rhinos remain under threat and there will be a decrease in the growth rate of the rhino population over the next five years, according to population models.

"While Africa’s rhinos are by no means safe from extinction, the continued slow recovery of Black Rhino populations is a testament to the immense efforts made in the countries the species occurs in, and a powerful reminder to the global community that conservation works. At the same time, it is evident that there is no room for complacency as poaching and illegal trade remain acute threats," Grethel Aguilar, acting director-general of IUCN, said in a statement.

Established in 1964, the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species has evolved to become the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of animal, fungi and plant species.

The black rhino (Diceros bicornis), also called the hook-lipped rhino, has four subspecies and is the smaller of Africa's two rhino species, the other being the white rhino.

Living across southern and eastern Africa including Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, black rhinos are currently under serious threat from poaching, driven by the demand for rhino horns, which are used in Chinese medicines.

'All rhinos at risk of poaching'

Along with being a "valuable" ingredient for traditional medicines in China as well as in Vietnam, rhino horns are also used as a status symbol to display success and wealth, which makes all kinds of rhino species vulnerable to poachers, Emma Pereira, communications manager at Save the Rhino International, told Anadolu Agency.

"When the [novel coronavirus] outbreak was first announced, there was a huge amount of fake news, from people sharing that the rhino horn was the source of the virus to others sharing that it could be used as a cure," Pereira said, stressing that neither are factual claims.

She said they also have to work with people to change behavior and understanding to be successful in reducing demand for rhino horns and poaching.

The coronavirus outbreak will also have a serious impact on the conservation body's field work.

"Many of the places we support rely on tourism as part of their income, and losing this major income stream will mean that they will have to continue an extremely tough job with fewer resources," she said.

Touching on the need to stem further poaching, she said that since there is no "perfect solution,” using "multiple tools in our toolbox" should be continued.

"This includes anti-poaching units that are well trained and equipped to do their jobs and embedding communities within projects so that rhino conservation benefits local people and trust is built," she said.

Pereira went on to say that changing people's behavior to end rhino horn consumption is another key element in stopping rhino poaching and illegal trade in rhino horns as well as implementing more effective enforcement.

Although international trade in rhino horns has been banned since 1977 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), a global agreement between governments to follow rules to monitor, regulate or ban international trade in species under threat, demand remains high and fuels rhino poaching in both Africa and Asia.

Established in 1994, the U.K.-based Save the Rhino organization works to conserve viable populations of critically endangered rhinos in Africa and Asia.

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