ON PAGE five of the Global Times, one of China’s most influential newspapers, appears an advertisement that can’t miss a reader’s eye mainly because of two prominent figures that grace the quarter page poster.
There, at the bottom of the page, is a smiling Jackie Chan, a successful Chinese actor, standing next to a rhino drawn in brown colours to match the film star’s own shirt. The two images strike an irresistible scene.
The message is a short and clear one: ‘Please help save rhinos. Never buy rhino horn.’
The logic behind the message, which is being backed by Wild Aid China in collaboration with African Wildlife Foundation and Wild Aid, is based on simple logic that, ‘when the buying stops, the killing can too.’
While the presence of Chan’s grinning face on the advert, it can be counted to arrest a reader’s eyes; the same may not be said of his ability to change the attitude of those involved in the trade.
For now, it’s a huge bet on the determined poachers and wealthy buyers who’re motivated by the fact that these innocent monsters are moving around with what the buyers claim is a cure for their ailments.
The rhino, one the hallmarks of Africa’s wildlife is fast approaching extinction because of unstoppable poaching, fueled by the lucrative market for its horn in Asia.
Early this month, authorities in South Africa, home to 95 percent of Africa’s few surviving rhinos, reported alarming levels of poaching with statistics indicating that 277 animals already killed since the year begun compared to 203 killed in the same period in 2013. That year, over 1,000 rhinos were killed for their horns.
Conservationists are clearly losing the battle to poachers, who are cashing in on huge demand from countries such as China and Vietnam where the rhino horn is said to be an important recipe for traditional medicine that cures some of the deadliest diseases including some type of cancer — a claim that is medically disputed.
Conservationists are facing an up-hill task of dissuading people against poaching with a kilogram of the Rhino’s horn reportedly going for as much as $100, 000—a price too high for poachers to ignore given the high poverty and unemployment levels in Africa.
In the first three months of this year alone, 166 rhinos were killed in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. The poachers, according to authorities, skirt the heavy security around the park and take off with their loot to neigbouring Mozambique from where they connect with dealers.
In February this year, out of frustration and desperation, authorities said they’re considering moving 100 rhinos to neigbouring Botswana for safe-keeping; but with the lucrative fee on their horns, poachers are unlikely to leave them alone.
It’s an irony for many that parks that are heavily guarded by armed personnel still somehow end up beaten, giving credence to the hypothesis that the park authorities could be conniving with poaching gangs to cash in on the bounty.
It’s reported that in Vietnam, one of the leading hotspots of demand for the rhino horn, a kilogram can go for up to $100, 000—almost as costly as gold. The reasons behind this high price tag are to be found deep in the prescriptions of Asian traditional medicine. Vietnamese believe that rhino horn powder provides cure for several fevers, liver diseases and most recently, some cancers.
According to the World Wild Fund (WWF), Vietnam which used to be home to Javan, a rhino species, had seen off the last of their stock by 2010 after the last animal was killed for medicinal purposes. Today, only fewer than 50 of Javan rhinos can be found in Indonesia.
Another species, the Sumatran rhinos is fast dwindling too with only about 200 of them remaining while India is holding on to its stock of some 2,900 of the one-horned rhino species.
With the Asian rhino stocks dwindling, the hunt has been brought to Africa and the effects are already taking their toll on the population of the monsters.
For instance, in 2010, the WWF estimated that there were over 4,880 Western Black Rhinos living in the savanna of sub-Saharan Africa, especially in Cameroon but by November 2011, the International Union for Conservation of Nature stunned the world when it officially declared them extinct after no animal was located in the wildness.
That left the continent with only the White Rhino. In 1900, Africa had about half a million White Rhinos but this has dwindled to just 20, 000 today—barely 5 percent. Of those, 18,800 are sad be living in South Africa’s wild, accounting for 95 percent.
However, going by the current poaching trend, these animals might not last beyond this decade. That’s why China’s new move to discourage demand is very significant to conservation efforts.