Is it time to move rhinos to safe havens?
The sun began to set during the cool evening, stretching a golden hue over the African sky. I put down my camera to soak in the magnificence that lay before my eyes, a gift from nature. The sunlight reflected against their silhouettes, radiating tones of silver from their skin.
I keenly watched as the lone black rhino stalked the three white rhino, waiting patiently for the perfect moment to retaliate and reclaim her territory. In that moment it became crystal clear to me how lucky I am to see both the black and white rhino in such close proximity. Amidst the peacefulness I became suddenly submerged by a wave of dread, and grim reality settled in with the tide. This might be my last chance to see these magnificent creatures in the wild.
Black and white rhinos are two species of rhino found in Africa. The terms black and white doesn’t actually refer to their skin color, as many people naively assume. Both types of rhinos are gray. The primary difference is lip shape, which is relative to their diet. Black rhinos browse from both trees and bushes, using their prehensile lip to pluck fruit and leaves from trees. White rhinos graze grassy plains while keeping their squared lip lowered to the ground as they feed.
Both white and black rhino are critically endangered from being poached to meet demand for their horn, a symbol of status. According to savetherhino.org, recent estimates state that about 4,000 black rhino and 20,000 white rhino are currently in Africa. 2014 produced a record year for rhino poaching: approximately 1,215 rhino were slaughtered, which is double the amount poached in 2012. Because deaths are not always reported, the rhino population is arguably significantly lower than recent estimates. At the current rate, rhino deaths will supersede birthrate and extinction looms.
In an ideal world rhinos would roam free from human greed. One rhino is killed every eight hours for their horn, meaning by this time tomorrow at least three more rhinos will be added to the growing list of casualties. The northern white rhino is nearly extinct with a mere 5 left and inability to breed naturally. Is anywhere in Africa really safe for rhinos? Is it time we consider translocation of rhinos overseas to safe havens so that we can initiate breeding programs to save their gene pool?