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Horn education can save rhinos

“If we cant save the Rhino from extinction then what hope do we have of saving the rest”, pleades wildlife veterinarian, William Fowlds after having recently treated two Kariega Game Reserve rhinos whose horns were savagely hacked early March.

“Whether we win or lose the battle to save the rhino will be measured by how much we value this species and (it will be) a clear indication of our desire to protect all species in our care.”

On the 2nd March 2012, three rhinos were attacked in the Kariega Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape, leaving one dead and two severely injured. Of the two surviving, Themba sadly passed away after his leg was badly damaged while he was under sedation for three to four hours.

“From now on we (will) focus all our treatment efforts on Thandi, (and be) even more determined to keep searching for ways to do better for rhinos than what we currently can,” claimed Dr Fowlds. “The legacy of Themba, and all he has taught us, remains at the gate, with Thandi, reminding us of our shortcomings, motivating us to do more, so much more.”

According to Dr Fowlds, the main cause of apathy amongst people is their inability to fathom the severity of the rhino crisis and that many are ill-informed about the species in general.

South Africa hosts two species of rhino whose horns are more developed than their counterparts in Asia, which have much smaller horns. Rhinos use their horns, (which are made of kertain, the same material that makes up human hair and fingernails), to dig in waterbeds to find water, uproot shrubs, impress members of the opposite sex and guide their offspring.

Their popularity is determined from both their ornamental and medicinal usage, with one of the greatest misconceptions being that it provides an aphrodisiac. However, despite China signing a multilateral treaty under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), rhino horn is still an extremely popular and highly trusted substance that according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), is used to treat fevers and convulsions because it provides stronger results than alternatives.

Of the five rhino species, the Black, Javan and Sumatran have been put on the Critically Endangered list. According to savingrhinos.org, an online organisation continually posting updates about the rhino crisis, 448 rhino were poached in 2011 and a further 159 have already been poached in the first 3 months of this year.

Dr Fowlds explains that Rhino horn can be cut off with no effect to the animal, allowing the horn to grow back and for the rhino to live up to 40 years. However, greedy poachers hack into the growth plate as well as the underlying skull with no concern for safety or life.

Though poaching is illegal locally, it is still legal to hunt in South Africa. Species are listed in three ways; normal, protected and endangered and this has a bearing on how they are hunted as well as the price they command. Therefore the amalgamation of loose hunting laws and the view that it is a great medicinal remedy has reached a tipping point.

Dr Fowlds sees the rhino as a magical and natural symbol of “what once existed, an anchor into our past natural heritage onto which we so desperately cling.”

Resisting their extinction is a sign that the world wants to take a step closer to rectifying man’s mistreatment of the animal kingdom. “Our fight to save the rhino is part of a very thin lifeline, a twisted rope between man and nature. The strength of the rhino exists in our appreciation of them, not our consumption of them and this strength gives us hope.”

Image 2: wildlife veterinarian, Dr William Fowlds

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