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  • Writer's pictureDr.Eleonore Op de Beeck


While spending time in South Africa taking part of the veterinary program I was able to learn from first hand about the cruel reality of Rhino poaching and what they are doing to protect it.

On this picture above, I'm helping to introduce a microchip within the horn by drilling a hole in it, to track the whereabouts and make sure they are being save.

Vets and the anti-poaching team are working hard to protect these magnificent animals, even risking their lives by doing so as poachers have become very knowledgable and have acquired military skills to capture and dehorn these vulnerable animals.

A long time ago, Rhinos were distributed throughout entire Africa, then started declining and becoming only common is countries like South Africa Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. Most poaching occurred in Kruger National Park, the biggest park in South Africa which has the most amount of Rhinos of the entire continent but has now moved to neighbouring countries like Namibia, Botswana , etc.

The Rhino population world wide has declined drastically because of humans, first, they were hunted by trophy hunters during colonial times in South Africa, in the 1950's and 60's, the Hluhluwe-iMofolozi Park and Wilderness foundation founder Dr.Ian Player were the initiators of rhino preservation and conservation in South Africa and were able to breed white rhinos and bring the species back from extinction in an initiative known as "operation rhino".

The population of black rhino recovered to 100.000 by 1960 but since the 70's the decline has been dramatic due to the growing demand from Asian countries. Between 1970 and 1996, 96% of the black rhino population was eliminated.

Poaching statistics continue to grow and in 2014 rhino poaching was at it's highest with an estimated 1215 rhinos poached in South Africa alone.

Between 2015 and 2019, annual poaching figures in South Africa have fallen. The current black and white rhino population is estimated to be around 5000 and 18000 respectively. 90% of the remaining black and white rhinos are in the South African countries of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.

During 2020, when governments implemented COVID mitigation measures, including lockdowns, there was a significant reduction in poaching, from 3.9% of the continental population in 2018 to 2.3% in 2021. Unfortunately with the reopening of travelling, poaching is on the rise again.

Poaching and rhino horn is a very lucrative business for people, mainly rangers that can barely survive in Africa and see this as the only way to make a living and provide for their families...although, the actual poachers get "peanuts" money while risking there lives, it is still valuable money (around a 100 USD) per Rhino horn, about a month's worth to provide for their family.

It is suggested that the actual cost of, for example, a 500gr piece of Rhino horn is about 3000 to 5000 USD in the black market. The cost of 1kg of Asian rhino horn is estimated to cost around 400.000 USD and 20.000 USD for African rhino horn.

In traditional Chinese medicine it is still believed to cure cancer and other diseases as well as reduce fever and give virility, yet, there are numerous science studies providing there are no curative effects nor other benefits from consuming Rhino horn, which makes sense knowing that it is made from the same substance as our nails, keratin.

It is also used as a status symbol to display success and wealth.

Yet, popular belief still rules in countries like China, it's main buyer but also Thailand and Vietnam has started to show interest.

Reports show the current (2022) state of the Rhino report/populations:

White Rhino: 15.942 (estimated population and decreasing)


The greater one-horn Rhino: 4.014 (estimated population and increasing)


Black Rhino: 6.195 (estimated population and increasing)


Javan Rhino :76 (estimated population and stable)


Sumatran Rhino: <80 (estimated population and decreasing)


Some believe that legalising poaching and horn trade, poaching will be reduced, yet there is no proof to back this up at all, on the contrary, the demand is so high (Not only China anymore but Thailand and Vietnam as well) that the rhino population will be wiped out as it can't recover that quick.

Rhino's gestation period is about 16 to 18 months and each time only one calf is born and will stay with it's mother until a new baby comes, about 2 to 4 years of age. The average lifespan of a rhino is between 35-50 years.

The entire reason the "big mafia" is willing to bring these animals into extinction is that the horn will increase it's value even more as there will be no rhinos anymore.

It is very ironic to think that the very thing that gives them the power to defend themselves, their horn, has become the main reason why they are being killed...

It is difficult to determine what the future will bring but it doesn't look too bright. The anti poaching team is having to kill poachers to protect their rhinos, but the real solution lies

not on wiping out the poachers but to take care of the ones above paying the poachers to do the "dirty and risky" work, another alternative that would help is for the South African government to improve life conditions so that rangers wouldn't have to feel so desperate to become poachers to make a living but we know that that is ages from happening!

Another initiative that was thought to help was to go to Asian countries like Vietnam to provide actual facts and scientific proof that rhino horn has no health benefits whatsoever but the tradition and culture has been so imbedded that this too will become a very difficult task unless we tackle the younger generations ...

In the meantime, what we can do, is participate and help these projects that aim to protect these majestic animals, volunteer and create awareness for future generations to come.

With our help, both by being active volunteers and by paying to go to their projects, we help them to fight against poaching.

If you want to be part of a bigger cause, join and volunteer at our South African project...let's save the rhino together!

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