For the first time in over a decade, rhino poaching decreased in South Africa in 2015. While this is great news for the nation, an estimated 1,175 rhinos were still killed in 2015. In 2014, the worst year on record in the nation, over 1,200 were slaughtered by poachers seeking to profit from the horns of the critically endangered animal. Additionally, the continent as a whole saw an increase in the numbers killed, meaning that poachers likely relocated to where they were easier to acquire.
Rhino horns fetch a high price on the black market, with much of the booty going to China in particular, but also to other nations where they are seen as a status symbol. People with too much money and not enough moral compass are more than willing to pay exorbitant prices for rhino horns to be used in everything from art and knickknacks to magic potions that don’t actually do anything because magic is not a real thing.
The numbers for 2015 are still alarmingly high, with over 1,300 killed in Africa as a whole — a record number. For perspective, there are fewer than 30,000 left alive today, down from over half a million just a century ago and 70,000 in the early 1970s. Additionally, while 2015 was better than 2014, it was still among the worst years on record.
The decline in South Africa was met by increases in neighboring Zimbabwe and Namibia where measures have not been as strong to save rhinos. Some species have gotten to where they are almost certainly past the point of no return, such as the Northern White Rhino. Still, the short term decline in South Africa can be used as a model to build from both within the nation and by its neighboring countries.
Realistically, the only way to completely stop the trade is to make it unprofitable. But as long as there are monstrous humans worldwide who would rather possess some trinket than to value an entire species’ survival it will be an ongoing struggle. For the time being, education where the ill-gotten goods are in high demand coupled with protective measures that include armed guards and protection for the animals in reserve are the only viable solutions.
“The slight decrease in rhinos poached is somewhat of a relief compared to recent years when we’ve seen nothing but increases, however, no poaching is acceptable,” said World Wildlife Fund’s Heather Sohl. “In the 17 years preceding the sudden escalation in 2008 fewer than 36 rhinos used to be killed by poachers in South Africa each year, so it’s still totally absurd that today there is this high level of poaching. Wildlife crime is a serious crime and needs to be treated as such. WWF will continue to work with partners across the globe to reduce the poaching, the trafficking and the demand for illegal wildlife products like rhino horn.”