Rhino poaching crisis: today, tomorrow, how much longer?

High above the vast grasslands of South Africa’s Kruger National Park, a helicopter armed with tranquilizer guns zeroes in on its prey: a black rhinoceros bull.

With its target locked, the helicopter crew fires an array of tranquilizer darts.

Bull’s-eye.

Upon landing, the crew members set out to complete a job half-done, vigorously hacking off the rhino’s horn with a two-stroke chainsaw.

Now dehorned, the rhino dies from an overdose of tranquilizers or bleeds to death.

The slaughtering of the rhino is deeply ingrained in South African culture. Home to 80 percent of Africa’s rhino, South Africa saw 633 rhinos killed by poachers in 2012.

“That number shows the scale of the poaching crisis,” said Katherine Ellis, office and communications manager of Save the Rhino International, to The Guilfordian. “It is a pretty serious crisis rhinos are facing at the moment.”

Save the Rhino has monitored professional poachers who are launching high-tech attacks on the endangered black rhino.

“Criminal gangs and syndicates go in there with night vision, helicopters, chainsaws and gunshot silencers,” said Ellis. “So despite intense security, these gangs often get away with it.”

The prospect of driving the rhino into extinction does not seem to concern local poachers. From a poacher’s perspective, the rhino is merely a placeholder for a much more coveted prize: the rhino horn.

“A rhino can be dehorned without it being killed, but poachers will kill the rhino to hack off all of the horn they can get, which leaves the rhino bleeding to death,” said Ellis.

“The horn is very desirable, and one reason is medicinal purposes,” said Professor of Biology Lynn Moseley. “But there has never been any proof whatsoever that it remedies digestive ailments.”

In the oil-rich Middle East, the rhino horn is a trophy for young men who sport the horn on dagger handles.

“With a ton of money in oil-rich nations, the demand for rhino horn continues,” said Moseley. “And where you have demand, you have people willing to supply.”

Flourishing economically and in numbers, poachers are a force to be reckoned with. Despite the poachers’ advantages, some activists continue the fight to end the slaughtering of rhinos.

Damien Mander, a front-line Australian soldier-turned-environmentalist, is founder and CEO of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation.

“I was traveling through South Africa and saw a problem,” Mander told The Guilfordian. “It is one of these things in life you run into, and you can turn your back on it — which is quite easy to do — or you can fight the bull, so to speak.”

Mander incorporates military skills to create standardized anti-poaching training programs. These programs serve as models for over 16 nations and emphasize protecting the rhino specifically.

“To us, the rhino is the heart of all animals,” said Mander. “If we aim to protect the rhino, we know that everything else in the ecosystem is being looked after.”

However, Mander believes that fighting for the rhino is not solely the responsibility of anti-poaching foundations. His message is that ending poaching is everyone’s fight.

“You guys at Guilford are college students, the minds of tomorrow,” said Mander. “Everyone needs to chip in, and it is everyone’s responsibility to understand what is going on.”

It is a pretty straightforward question: rhino or no rhino?

Only we can decide.

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