Loneliest rhino in the world: Surrounded by armed guards, he's the last male of his breed - victim of an evil trade that's wiping out these giants Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3040970/Loneliest-rhino-world-Surrounded-armed-guards-s
- Category: News
- 15 April 2015
Disbelief. That’s what you feel when you meet a rhino in the wild. You just can’t come to terms with the fact that you and he are sharing the same air, the same continent, the same century.
I’ve had close-up experience with three of the world’s five surviving species of rhino: the white rhino looks like the main battle tank of an extra-terrestrial army, while the black is more like a hot-rod armoured car.
The greater one-horned rhino, meanwhile, sometimes called the Indian rhino, looks as if it’s been riveted together from pieces of boiler-plate.
Surely they can’t be real. You feel as if you’ve slipped back into the Jurassic era and were looking at some great horned dinosaur, for they couldn’t possibly be part of the 21st century.
It’s as if the creatures of the past had suddenly invaded the present, as if the Lost World of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had been found again.
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Guarded: A four man team of armed guards now protects Sudan the Northern White Rhino who is the last male of his species
But then you think: hang on a minute. These rhinos are nothing to do with dinosaurs or with any vanished world.
They’re mammals, just like you and me, and they’re as admirably adapted for the current century as we are. They’re as modern as a child born yesterday: part of our present, not part of our past.
Yes, give them a fair crack of the whip and they’d be as successful as any of the big creatures we have left on our planet, for in many countries the wild places they depend on are still in fine shape and perfectly capable of supporting any number of rhinos.
So why are we running out of them? Why does the last surviving male of the northern sub-species of the white rhino now live under a 24-hour guard? Why has he been stripped of his horn? Why is it that we seem to be on the brink of losing an entire race of rhinos?
Threatened: Sudan is the target of poachers looking to sell rhino horn which can make up to £47,000 a kilo
This is the lonely rhino, known as Sudan, guarded day and night by rangers who risk their own lives as they try to keep him from poachers. Even without his horn, his keepers in the Kenyan reserve of Ol Pejeta fear for his safety.
It seems like madness —because it is madness.
A rhino’s horn is made from keratin, the same stuff as fingernails. You could collect your nail clippings and try to sell them, claiming that they were magic and capable of curing all kinds of things. You could try selling your keratin at £47,000 a kilo.
You probably wouldn’t find many takers, but it’s no more absurd than selling rhino horn for the same purposes and price.
People will pay an absurd amount for an absurd product because of an absurd belief: that rhino horn is the most wonderful kind of medicine.
Today, the wildlife business — including the sale of rhino horn — represents the third-largest illegal trade in the world, after arms and drugs.
It offers a considerable opportunity for criminals, because the authorities don’t enforce the laws against it with anything like the same seriousness as they do with weapons and narcotics.
And there is huge — and growing — demand. In 2007, 13 rhinos were poached and killed in South Africa. The horns were removed and they were sold on the Asian medicine market.
Dangerous: The rangers are aware they are risking their lives to protect the enormous animal
Failure: But attempts at breeding have been unsuccessful - and Sudan is now getting old
Last year in South Africa 1,215 rhinos were poached and killed. That’s one every eight hours. We’re running out of rhinos.
The massacre is taking place across Africa and into Asia. It’s driven by money, and the more horn costs the more desirable the stuff becomes.
Prestige, status, vanity and belief in magic drive the trade in rhino horn. The fact that it’s useless for anyone but a rhino has no bearing on demand.
Rhino horn has for centuries been part of traditional Chinese medicine, and it’s used to treat disorders of the blood.
It’s never been used as an aphrodisiac: that’s a fantasy from bewildered Westerners. Increasing prosperity in China has led to higher demand.
But as the South African poaching figures show, the market has jumped from steady but borderline sustainable to completely crazy, which has put rhinos on the fast-track to extinction. That’s largely because of the entry of a new player: Vietnam.
The country’s new wealth has kick-started a craze for rhino horn. They take a much more free and easy attitude to its powers there: it’s regarded as a cure for cancer, and it’s also used a pick-me-up after a big night.
The effects of a powerful hangover can, people believe, be controlled — all it takes is one very rich man and one very dead rhino.
Can the trade possibly be stopped? There are two ways of doing so: policing the poaching, smuggling and sale with more commitment, and reducing the demand in the places where people buy the stuff.
In 2012, the South African and Vietnamese governments signed a memorandum of understanding, agreeing to work with closer co-operation to stop the trade. You can see how well that’s worked.
In Vietnam a non-governmental organisation called Education for Nature in Vietnam (ENV) is trying to make rhino horn uncool.
It has a public service announcement with Vietnam’s great singing diva, Hong Nhung, standing by a poached and dehorned corpse telling the Vietnamese not to use rhino horn.
And in another sequence, a comedian plays a rich man trying to impress the girls with his hideously expensive chunk of horn. The most beautiful girl says: ‘It impresses no one, especially not me.’
ENV runs a hotline for information about rhino horn use and a database. It also has good contacts in government and works on policy.
The organisation has plenty of young volunteers and a good deal of their work is making rhino horn unthinkable for the next generation.
It gets some of its funding from the excellent London-based organisation Save The Rhino — of which I’m a patron.
Extreme measures: Rangers have even cut off the rhino's horn - but they fear it won't be enough
Hungry: Feeding time in Sudan's enclosure - he spent most of his life in a Czech zoo
There are also many good projects for rhino conservation in Africa and across the world. The Luangwa Valley in Zambia once held 4,000 black rhinos: they were poached out over 20 years and declared extinct in Zambia in 1998.
Five years later, a project to release captive-bred black rhinos began: there are now 34 roaming free in the valley.
Most problems with conservation come from the rising human population, and with it, the destruction of habitat. In so many parts of the world, we are running out of room.
But there’s plenty of room left for rhinos in Africa. Conserving rhinos should be easy, yet they’re going extinct not because of overcrowding but from human folly.
Rhinos are being killed because of belief in a discredited form of magic and the simple love of showing off.
And yet you can go out into the wild areas of the world, especially in Africa, and still get close to these vast beasts.
I once spent a day in Zimbabwe tracking a big male black rhino on foot and when at last we found him it seemed this might have been a mistake. There he was, 20 yards away, looking at me looking at him. One of those moments of eternity.
But after a while he relaxed and got on with his life, snacking on bushes.
Big solid, fast and armed with that wonderful great bodger on his bonce, he’s a modern creature fully equipped for the modern world, if only we’d let him get on with it.
But we’re killing him off with money, greed, political inertia, incompetent policing, superstition and deadly vanity.
So, a suggestion if you happen to be suffering from a hangover and wish to cure it. Try biting your nails. It’s every bit as effective as a dead rhino.