The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: Save the Rhino

A PRIMARY school girl commenting on the plight of the rhino on South African television last week said: "We must conserve the rhino. If we don't, that means the Big Five is dead. Then we have the Big Four? What is that?" The girl was part of a school cast that performed the play "Rhino Wrath" to commemorate the World Rhino Day on September 22.

The day, which appears on the UN calendar celebrates the uniqueness of the rhino and promotes its conservation.

The rhino appears high on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List of critically endangered animal species.

The IUCN Red List is the most comprehensive information source on the status of wild species and their links to livelihoods.

Its overall objective is to convey the urgency and scale of conservation problems to the public and policy makers, and to motivate the global community to work together to reduce species extinctions.

The schoolgirl's words may appear simple but are, as a matter of fact, complex and instructive in some important ways.

Firstly, humanity earns a deserved lesson of what will become of the world without the rhino; well, it will evolve into a rhinoless world, a world without the rhino. If illegal killings continue to flourish, as is the case today, the 29 000 rhino herd left worldwide will disappear eternally from the earth's surface, from your zoos and from your game reserves within the next two decades, conservationists say.

At that stage is where talk of extinction begins, and then, unfortunately, the rhino will start to exist only in people's minds and in your archives, as still and motion pictures.

Then, secondly, the girl's words depict the future of tourism devoid of the rhino in Southern Africa, which boasts the biggest rhino population in the world.

It means the Big Five will no longer be marketable as a brand; one unsuitable for use, as a drawcard for attracting tourists.

That may cause severe socio-economic implications for many Sadc countries whose economies thrive on wildlife based-tourism as a key revenue earner.

Unless, of course, the rhino is protected from extinction, we may have to start looking for a replacement to maintain numbers in the Big Five, or become content with the downgrade to the Big Four. But then, again, what is the Big Four?

There is still hope

Not everyone is sleeping when action is called for rhino conservation. The IUCN World Conservation Congress held in Jeju, Korea, last month passed an important resolution for the protection of the rhino. Resolution 26 calls for a collaborative approach to rhino conservation, the world over.

It called for stronger measures to be taken to conserve the remaining rhino population as well as for increased control of illegal hunting and trading activities. In an interview last week, celebrated conservationist and IUCN Zimbabwe National Committee chairperson Ms Charlene Hewat said Resolution 26 "was really wonderful" for rhino work.

She said the resolution recognises that effective conservation measures, expenditure and significant political will within regions and countries has resulted in the increase in population of three rhino species, namely the Black, the Southern White and the Greater One- Horned Rhino.

"It also recognises the important role that commercial wildlife enterprises, including trophy hunting has played in generating incentives for conservation," explained Ms Hewat, famous for her 22 000km "Save the Rhino" worldwide bicycle ride in 1987.

"Although, as Zimbabwe we do not have rhino on our hunting quotas, we do support sustainable utilisation.

The resolution also called for increased collaborative law enforcement actions between regions and countries including transit and consuming countries and this is something Zimbabwe can become more involved in. Other measures that Zimbabwe could further expand are the use of DNA profiling of rhino horns.

"Resolution 26 is a very positive resolution and it is our hope that all sectors will consider the resolution for the benefit and future of rhino conservation."

Poaching nightmare

Statistics on rhino poaching, which is mostly prevalent in Southern Africa, are scary. They have accelerated sharply over the past four years with 122 animals killed in 2009 and 333 in 2010.

Last year, 708 rhino were killed worldwide -- 448 in South Africa (including 19 critically endangered black rhinos), 28 in Zimbabwe, 27 in Kenya and two in Swaziland. This year, 281 animals had been killed in South Africa alone by the end of July, 164 of these in the Kruger National Park. At the current rate of poaching, the number of rhino killed is expected to reach 595 by December.

Ms Hewat said the rhino was killed mainly for its horn, which has a ready market in southeast Asia, particularly in China and Vietnam.

The horn is used in jewellery, and is believed to contain medicinal properties, which have, however, been scientifically proven wrong. It is also used for ornate dagger handles in Yemen, a prized symbol status for men.

"Therefore, a lot more work and effort needs to be focused on these consuming countries to raise awareness, lobby for laws to combat the illegal trade to curb the poaching and resultant trade in rhino horn," she said. Now illegal rhino killings have greatly decimated the global rhino population.

Figures released at the IUCN World Congress put the remaining populations at 4 880 Black rhino, which is listed as critically endangered. There are less than 50 Javan rhino and below 200 Sumatran rhino, both critically endangered, left in the world. At least 2 920 Greater one-horned rhino still exist in the world with the biggest population recorded among the white rhino at 20 165.

Rhino conservation in Zimbabwe

The rhino population in Zimbabwe currently stands at just over 700 black and white rhino. Records show that there were 32 births and 17 deaths between January and June 2012.

About 95 percent of the deaths are a result of poaching. Zimbabwe's rhino populations are relatively stable compared to those of South Africa, which is bearing the brunt of the killings.

Zimbabwe has a strong Parks and Wildlife Act, which penalises poaching of both the black or white rhino at US$120 000 or imprisonment.

However, Ms Hewat said, the problem remains adequate law enforcement. A lot of work is being done in the country on rhino conservation, regardless. "Zimbabwe, like our African neighbours, is determined to fight the war against poaching.

"Protection within parks and private conservancies, specialised anti-poaching units, co-operation between law enforcement agencies are just some of the measures being taken to stem the killing.

"There is also a lot of research being undertaken, especially in the Lowveld where close monitoring is undertaken," she said.

Ms Hewat said species are the building blocks of biodiversity and ecosystems, the natural resources that humans utilise and rely on every day.

Species extinction is occurring at unprecedented levels, estimated at up to 1 000 times the "background" or natural rate.

The causes are many, including habitat destruction, land conversion for agriculture and development, climate change, pollution, illegal wildlife trade, and the spread of invasive species.

The loss of species results in biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, diminishing the quality of human lives and basic economic security.

By saving species people save biodiversity and the ecosystems that provide the natural resources needed to survive.

The IUCN is the world's oldest and largest global environmental organisation.

The organisation demonstrates how biodiversity is fundamental to addressing some of the world's greatest challenges: tackling climate change, achieving sustainable energy, improving human well-being among others.

God is faithful.

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