Don’t Hate, Isolate: Black Rhino Numbers on a Delicate Rise

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All around the world, wildlife has suffered a decline in both richness and number due to various consequences of human activities, and their impact on both climate and habitat. Poaching cruelly adds to this cumulative burden, especially across Africa where species such as rhinos and elephants have been pushed to the brink of extinction for parts in high demand on the Asian market. 

Fortunately, many wildlife protection organisations and environmental crime fighters have been working relentlessly for years to ensure effective prosecution of poachers and active conservation of endangered members of the African “Big Five”. Black rhinos are proving these methods pay: although still particularly endangered, their numbers have been increasing by 2.5 percent a year between 2012 and 2018, bringing their numbers to over 5,500, against less than 5,000 six years prior. A small victory, but encouraging news in an era when more than a thousand rhinos are killed every year for their horn.

Despite economists proving the superior value of such species alive than sold for parts, fighting for their protection is proving a far from easy task. A few large criminal networks are thought to be behind all ivory and rhino horn smuggling across several African countries, and have been linked to drug trafficking and powerful familial crime organisations. Catching poachers red-handed is far from enough, as extensive corruption usually allowing for killing operations and horn trade to carry on in impunity, also more often than not caused trials to stall or simply dropped after evidence and files disappeared. Still, the recent successful prosecution of Feisal Mohamed Ali in Kenya for possession of rhino horns brings hope that the tendency may be reversed, or at least countered by a few successful outcomes.

For now, let’s rejoice about the good news: black rhinos just joined the ranks of once nearly-extinct iconic megafauna who escaped their predicted doom. After heavily harpooned humpack whales making a 25,000-individual-large comeback in the South Atlantic, and Blue whales numbers rising from a few hundred to an estimated couple thousand, black rhinos are evidence that conservation battle, however long and difficult, is worth the fight.

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Science and Tech editor 2019/20, Fourth year Marine Biology student. Can be found at the pool, the sea or on a windsurf board.

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