May 30, 7 months ago

The Rhino Crisis

We often receive questions about the current rhino crisis, which unfortunately, over the last decade, has not significantly subsided. In order to address these questions and bring awareness to the extreme complexity of the situation we have compiled this article as a resource for you to refer to. Our sources include our charities and partners who are working tirelessly to gain control over the situation, as well as African government articles and other organisations with a focus on rhino conservation.

Along with our charity partner the Born Free Foundation (2012:1), we most certainly agree that the world’s rhinos are in crisis. Less than 29,000 rhino’s remain, which belong to five species spread across sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, of which three are critically endangered. “The western subspecies of black rhino in Africa was declared extinct in 2011, Vietnam’s last Javan rhino was shot by a poacher in 2010, and the last male northern white rhino had to be put to sleep in a Kenyan conservancy in March 2018” (Born Free Foundation 2018: 1).

Another of our charity partners, the Wilderness Foundation (2018:1) recognises that the rhino poaching crisis (as well as other wildlife crime) is of national (referring to South Africa) and international significance and affects all levels of society. Wildlife crime is the fourth most profitable illicit trade in the world, estimated at up to $213 billion annually. Wilderness Foundation Africa (2018:1) states that they are  working tirelessly in partnership with various organisations to address the issue of wildlife crime.

Until 1970 rhino populations across the world were fairly stable with few poaching incidents. Unfortunately within a decade, more than half of the world’s rhino populations had disappeared due to the increase in wealth in the East and therefore the rhino population was threatened with extinction. Since the 1970’s, due to numerous conservation efforts and improved security measures, the black and white rhino populations have grown. However, the growth in population is in danger of being reversed again by a reappearance of poaching. Now also known as a cure for cancer, the demand for rhino horn is rising, as well as the price.

The Wilderness Foundation launched its Forever Wild Rhino Protection Initiative in May 2011 due to the rising rhino poaching crises.

Charity partner, Save The Rhino (2018:1) shed some light on the history of poaching and how it has spread. The current poaching crisis essentially began in Zimbabwe,  the trying political and socio-economic climate  facilitated rhino poaching. Once poachers had finished with the easy pickings in Zimbabwe, poachers turned to neighbouring South Africa, which therefore saw a tremendous increase in poaching from 2009-2014.
In 2013, the South African poaching crisis spread to other African countries. Firstly, Kenya was hit hard and experienced its worst year of poaching in 2013, when 59 animals were killed (which equalled over 5% of Kenya’s rhino population)(Save The Rhino 2018:1). Thereafter, in 2015 both Namibia and Zimbabwe were firmly hit, Namibia lost a total of 80 rhinos from poaching, an increase from 25 in 2014 and two in 2012. Meanwhile in Zimbabwe, at least 50 rhinos were targeted and poached in 2015, over double compared to the previous year. For Africa in its entirety, the total number of rhinos that were poached during 2015 was the most in two decades (Save The Rhino 2018:1).

All the above information is reflected in charity partner Helping Rhinos’ (2018) graph:

Solutions to Curb Rhino Poaching

We consulted an article by organisation Rhino Protect (2018:5)  on realistic ways to save rhino in South Africa:

It’s sad to think that our rhinos are being poached for the value that its horn offers dealers from Asian countries such as  China, South Korea and Taiwan, where they use it in traditional medicines. Countries in the Middle East such as Yemen and Oman use rhino horn to make different types of ornaments, for example, ceremonial daggers and jewellery (Rhino Protect 2018:3).

According to (The Guardian) (in Rhino Protect 2018), in August 2011 the value of rhino horn increased by up to £50,000 per kilogram due to greater demand in Asian countries. It is completely horrific and criminal what all is done to the rhino in order for poachers to get a hold of its horn. “Our heroes on the front lines, who have thousands of kilometers to patrol, are doing all they can to safeguard our rhino from extinction. Unfortunately, they can only do so much and cannot be everywhere”(Rhino Protect 2018:3).

Currently, the total value of rhino horn is valued at one million US dollars. The high value that is placed on rhino horn ensures that  it is even more difficult for everyone involved in anti-poaching to save the rhino from extinction.

Even though more arrests had taken place in 2012 than ever before, the rewards or poaching far outweighs the poachers’ fear of jail. There is still a lot that needs to be done in order to safeguard our rhino from extinction. There are various ways to help save our rhino’s in order to preserve them for our future generations.

According to recent polls, people came up with various ways to help eliminate rhino poaching. Rhino Protect (2018:5) takes a brief look at some of the proposals made;

  1. Legalise international trade of the rhino horn: The theory is supported by the idea of farming rhinos and eventually harvesting their horns.
  2. Safe rhino dehorning: It’s been said that if done under controlled conditions, the rhino’s horn could be safely removed without harming the animal. The only problem here is that it has a negative effect on the animal’s behaviour and on the male rhino’s ability to mate.
  3. Harsher prison sentences: …together with increased patrolling is another recommendation to serve as a deterrent to illegal poachers.
  4. Educating people: Education around the world is another way to help dealers and poachers realise the futility in actually killing of the rhino for its horn. Then there is a need to make them realise that there is no real medicinal value that can be attached to the horn of the rhino. (An excellent example is the demand reduction campaign for rhino horn by Wilderness Foundation’s Forever Wild Rhino project)
  5. Increased funding and donations: Donations from the public will help to conserve the rhino for future generations as stricter measures can be taken to help safeguard them. Even more exciting is the introduction of a treatment known as RhinoProtect where the rhino horn is made valueless to poachers as it gets injected with color dye and poison, whereby X-ray scanners will be able to detect the horn. More information on this process will be revealed later on.
  6. Selling of horns from rhino who died of natural causes, or in cases where the horns broke off. Apparently there are over 25 tons of rhino horn available in South Africa. This process needs to be legalised to get it into motion.
  7. Bans on rhino horn sale: Bans being placed on using rhino horn within Asian countries like Taiwan, Korea, and Japan is certainly contributing as there is not such a high demand for horns like it used to be. Except for places like China, Thailand and Vietnam where the demand is still rising.
  8. Local initiatives: Raising funds through holding concerts like the Stand up concert is a useful way to ensure the survival of our rhino as it helps a lot to keep their natural habitat going. Besides poaching, forest fragmentation can also contribute to their numbers decreasing. Local awareness maintains the issue deep close to us and allows the Rhino lobbies to keep pressure on the government to find political solutions.
  9. Going Social:If millions of us, electors, tax payers, entrepreneurs, workers raise our voices against rhino poaching and place this dreadful issue in our first priorities we will make things change. There will be more and more initiatives, there will be more action to protect, save, prevent and finally secure the survival of our rhinos. Simply read, share, comment and be active around the rhino survival.
  10. Rhino horn poisoning :Positive action needs to be taken to preserve our rhino for our grandchildren and their children. RhinoProtect is a project that was initiated by Damian Vergnaud, who is the owner of Inverdoorn Game Reserve and Safari Lodge. After much discussion and consideration it was decided that it is best to poison the rhino horn, making it unpalatable for human consumption, which is the main reason for poaching taking place.The good thing about injecting color dye into the rhino horn, is that the 40 minute procedure poses no real threat to the health of the animals involved. As this procedure makes the actual horn worthless, it is a better way to ensure the survival of our rhino.

Below is a summary of guidelines for “Ensuring Security of Rhino Population” (Guidelines for Implementing SADC Rhino Conservation Strategies by R. Du Toit):

The creation of anti-poaching units should be based on the idea of creating maximized risk for poachers whilst also reducing the potential rewards from poaching rhinos. “Maximizing the risk to poachers is achieved by maintaining intelligence networks and by ensuring effective field surveillance of rhino populations, with this surveillance including civilian elements such as tourist operators, researchers and unarmed rhino monitors who may be engaged by NGOs”(R. Du Toit 2013:58). These “eyes and ears” should be coordinated so that it ensures the earliest detection of poaching, and should be followed by fast and aggressive reactions by anti-poaching units. “Minimizing the returns to poachers involves measures such as dehorning rhinos, translocating some of them elsewhere when poaching becomes prevalent, increasing legal penalties, influencing communities to deplore poaching, disrupting horn trading networks, etc”(R. Du Toit 2013:58). The essential aim of anti-poaching units is to decrease the motivation for poachers entering  rhino areas in the first place, this is done through ongoing demonstrations of high risks and minimal rewards. A high rate of encounters with poachers by the protection units is not always a sign of anti-poaching success even if the protection units win most of these encounters. Once many different groups of poachers have started regular poaching incidents, the situation worsens into a “poaching war” and the amount of rhinos that are lost soon becomes unsustainable. For effective anti-poaching, manpower densities within an area which contains rhinos is unlikely to be less than one man (who is suitably trained, well equipped and motivated) per twenty kilometer², and often this density would have to increase to one man per ten kilometers².

Out of all the articles of equipment that is needed by anti-poaching units, dependable handheld radios are one of the most important items because effective communications will lower the time taken between a poaching incident being discovered by someone, and a response being achieved. Therefore the poachers will cause less damage on the rhino population.

R Du Toit (2013:58) Believes that:

Recording and analysis of field patrol effort, and the outcomes from this effort, are essential in order to reliably monitor trends in poaching activity, over different areas and over different time periods. Incentive systems for anti-poaching staff, and informer and reward systems within all sectors of the local community and staff, are important for the protection of rhinos. However, these systems need to be implemented with considerable care as poorly administered incentive and intelligence systems can become worse than none at all. All possible information must be derived from each rhino poaching incident, using appropriate methods of scene-of-crime analysis. This evidence must be carefully recorded and/or preserved in accordance with the legal steps required to present the evidence in court. Expert witnesses should be used whenever possible to reinforce the case for prosecution. Investigating agencies should follow established procedures to share their information with sister agencies who have valid needs for such intelligence. Specific databases have been designed to facilitate this. The rhino management authorities within every range state should undertake regular assessments of the amount of rhino horn that is likely to be derived from various sources (natural mortalities, dehornings, etc.). The anticipated accumulation of horn into official stockpiles from these sources should be compared with actual accumulation rates in order to detect leakages of horn to the illegal sector. The horn stockpiles must be maintained in accordance with CITES regulations and must be regularly audited.

Save the Rhino discusses dehorning:

The first country to use the dehorning method to protect its rhinos from poaching was Namibia. Between 1989 and the 1990s, dehorning together with fast improvements in security and increases in funding for anti-poaching units was perceived by most stakeholders to have contributed drastically to decreasing poaching losses. Not a single dehorned rhino was poached in Namibia (Save The Rhino : 2018).
There have been a few other successful stories across Africa. Rhinos that have been dehorned in certain Zimbabwe Lowveld conservancies in recent years appear to have a 29.1% higher chance of survival than horned animals. Just over one third of all reserves’ rhinos  In Mpumalanga, South Africa (this excludes Kruger National Park) have been dehorned, with only one rhino being a dehorned rhino out of 33 poached in 2009-2011.

However, there are cases where dehorning has been insufficient in preventing rhinos from falling victim to poachers. For instance, in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe through the early 1990s, most of the dehorned rhinos were poached and killed between twelve and eighteen months after being dehorned. Nearly six newly dehorned rhinos were killed In Zimbabwe’s Save Valley Conservancy between January and August of 2011 (one of the rhino was poached within 24 hours and another within only five days of being dehorned).

An important aspect of the dehorning debate is whether or not rhinos actually need their horns. The evolutionary importance of horns in rhinos is not completely clear, and may include reasons such as mate choice or anti-predator defence. It is a known fact that rhinos use their horns for many behavioural functions which include; defending their territories, defending their calves from other predators and rhinos, maternal care (this includes guiding calves) and for foraging behaviour such as excavating water and breaking branches. Male rhinos also use their horns over territory or dominance disputes, therefore the removal of a rhinos horn may undermine particular bulls ability  to maintain territory or status. On the other hand, dehorning has reduce fighting-related mortalities between Black rhinos in Zimbabwe. However, dehorning could also reduce the value of rhinos, whether it is for photographic or hunting tourism or even as a potential live sale.

To read more on the Dehorning Process we recommend taking a look at “A Study on the dehorning of African rhinoceroses as a tool to reduce the risk of poaching” by The Department of Environmental Affairs (South Africa) (2011) – here’s the link.

Stop Rhino Poaching discuss the use of poison:

A few rhino owners have considered and used a new type of treatment that claims to pressure inject the rhino horns with poisons as well as dyes that are designed to indicate to poachers that the rhinos horn is contaminated with poison and the end user will become seriously ill after consumption (Department of Environmental Affairs 2013:18). There are ethical and practical concerns that have been raised due to the fact that the non-guilty people may be poisoned after unknowingly ingesting the affected horn, and that dealers on the black market may find ways of disguising the dye (for example, by bleaching the horns) or by simply cutting out the affected parts of horns. If this treatment is effective, it would successfully reduce the number of horn that are sold which would then result in higher prices being fetched on the black-market, further incentivising criminals. As with dehorning, because of constant horn growth the price involved with poisoning horns is more than likely to be considerable and on-going. To add, if poachers are unable to tell the difference between a treated and an untreated rhino, then treated rhinos may also get poached (Department of Environmental Affairs 2013:18).

How effective these expensive treatments actually are has been very satisfactorily demonstrated. Rather, evidence from a few recovered horns that were treated with the poison and dye shows that the dye had not penetrated into the treated horns, this suggests that this kind of treatment is totally ineffective.

Save the Rhino (2013:1) explain that it was welcomed as a ‘silver bullet’ to protect our rhinos from the present poaching epidemic. On the surface, it seemed like a fantastic idea to poison rhino horns because who would want to ingest something that was laced with toxic chemicals and poison? Yet, if you dig a bit deeper into the research, you will see that the issue is not as simple…

Poisoning rhino horns first landed in 2010 on the conservation scene, when the owner of the “Rhino and Lion Reserve” in Gauteng, Ed Hern claimed that he is planning to inject rhino horns on his reserve with poison in order to deter poachers.Ed Hern stated that: “The aim would be to kill, or make seriously ill anyone who consumes the horn” (Save The Rhino : 2013).

At the time, it was an experimental method and the exact effects of poison was unknown. it was hoped that this very proactive solution would have prevented the poaching of rhinos in the first place. However, it was known that the poison was not damaging to the animal itself; the horn of a rhino’s doesn’t have a direct line to its bloodstream. The Rhino Rescue Project was developed because of Ed’s initial idea and this saw a roll out throughout South Africa (Save the rhino: 2013).

Poisoning involves drilling holes straight into the horn of a rhino and then inserting extremely toxic ectoparasiticides. According to the Rhino Rescue Project, ectoparasiticides are not deadly if consumed by humans in small quantities, however they are still toxic when ingested and symptoms could include, vomiting, convulsions and nausea.

In addition to poisoning the horn, a brightly coloured dye was also infused into the horn in an attempt to warn and ward off poachers. As a result, many game reserves and state parks have injected poison and dye into their rhino’s horns to deter poaches as well as installed signage to warn potential poachers that the horns have been treated.

Firstly the issue of IF the poison did work as intended will be examined and then the results of a more recent study into the effectiveness of the rhino horn infusion method.

Forgetting the moral issue of people in faraway countries being poisoned, there are several negatives to this idea. “The idea relies on two assumptions: firstly, that the poachers will be deterred from killing rhinos with poisoned horns, and; secondly, that consumers will be deterred from buying rhino horn for fear that they will be poisoned”(Save The Rhino:2013).

Looking at the first theory, it appears that poachers are not worried whether the rhino horn is poisoned or not. For example, the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve next to the Kruger National Park poisoned all of its rhinos’ horns yet their rhinos were still targeted by poachers. Even if poachers know that the rhinos horns are poisoned, they are still very likely to still shoot the rhino as they are likely to be able to still sell the horn to a “middle man” for a large amount of money as they are unlikely to admit that the horns have been poisoned (Save The Rhino:2013).

The concept of deterrence may have the exact opposite effect  if consumers are aware of the fact that they may be poisoned and have a “what does not kill you makes you stronger attitude” as well as if they consume the rhino horn and do not fall ill, they could believe that they have “conquered” the poison or that the rhino horn is so “magical” that it counteracted the poison, they will still buy rhino horn and believe in its curative properties (Save The Rhino:2013)

Another huge problem is that the use of rhino horn is rapidly changing and Traditional Chinese Medicine is no longer the main driver. Rhino Horn is now being consumed as a status symbol by the wealthy urban population and this population generally likes to display the horn in its entirety.  Poison will be an inefficient deterrent if the population is buying it to use for display purposes (Save The Rhino:2013).

Unfortunately, by poisoning rhino horns, it could actually increase the price of rhino horns that are not poisoned, which could lead to the intensification of rhino poaching. The population who are buying rhino horn are extremely wealthy and willing to pay a premium price to criminals who can guarantee an un-poisoned horn, this will inevitably drive up the overall price even higher (Save The Rhino:2013).

In conclusion, the above collection of information snippets serve to highlight the fact that solving the rhino crisis is an extremely complex challenge, one which needs to be addressed in collaboration between governments, NGO’s, conservation experts, land-owners and the public through a multi-pronged approach including the following (some of which we have not even mentioned in this article):

  • The protection of rhino on the ground (effective anti-poaching, adequate security, dehorning)
  • Ensuring enough safe areas for rhino to thrive
  • Rescuing orphaned and injured rhinos for rehabilitation and future release into protected areas
  • Education and awareness globally of the rhino crisis
  • Demand reduction campaigning (of rhino horn in end user markets)

We hope you find this article to be useful. Please keep in mind that it only covers the tip of iceberg in an attempt to summarise the issue, and discuss certain methods at curtailing rhino poaching that we are frequently asked about.

Poaching survivor Thandi with her first calf, Thembi

If you would like to volunteer to help rhinos, we have several programmes you can join:

du Toit, R. (ed.), Guidelines for Implementing SADC Rhino Conservation Strategies. SADCRegional Programme for Rhino Conservation, Harare (Zimbabwe), 2006. (2018). The Rhino Horn Trade. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 May 2018].
Helping Rhinos (2018). Rhinos Poached in South Africa. [image] Available at: [Accessed 29 May 2018]. (2018). De-horning. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 May 2018]. (2013). Poisoning rhino horns. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 May 2018]. (2018). 10 Realistic Ways To Save The Rhino In South Africa – Rhinoprotect. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 May 2018]. (2018). Projects – Wilderness Foundation Africa. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 May 2018].

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