African rhinos will be extinct in the wild in less than twenty years, and conservation efforts are not working. Something drastic needs to be done now to stop the inevitable death of this magnificent species. Can responsible tourism be the answer?
Black and white African rhinos are one of the most recognisable and iconic animals in the world, and in fact are one of the ‘big five’ tourist draws on any safari or zoo trip. Yet despite this – like many of their equally as famous safari tick list counterparts, they are at serious risk of being extinct within the next 20 years.
In case you missed that, there may be no African rhino left in the wild in your lifetime.
Rhino poaching is at an all time high and the statistics are truly horrific. According to WESSA (The Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa), there were a total of 1020 known deaths of African rhinos as a direct result of poaching in 2014, a huge rise from the 2010 statistic of 333 and a rise of 300% in the last few years alone! In comparison, just 344 poachers were arrested in South Africa in 2014. This rate of rhino death by poaching is completely unsustainable. At this rate, with the number of black rhinos left in the wild down to the thousands, they will be extinct in less than 20 years. It is that simple.
Why are Rhinos being hunted to extinction?
Money. Plain and simple. Rhino poaching is so common in Africa because frankly rhino horn fetches such a ridiculously high sum on the black market, up to $65,000 per kilo. There is a huge demand for Rhino horn throughout Asia, where it is used in a wide variety of homeopathic remedies. There are claims it helps everything from impotence to cancer, despite the fact that there is zero clinical evidence to suggest that it has any health benefits whatsoever.
What is being done?
There are a variety of organisations that are working hard to raise awareness of the issues involved and raise money for numerous initiatives. Rhinos Without Borders are currently running a project that aims to move at least 100 endangered rhinos out of areas with a high risk of poaching and release them into the wild within Botswana which has an extremely tough but effective shoot to kill stance on poachers and therefore virtually no poaching. There is more on the concurrent #JustOneRhino campaign which is raising money for the project below. Responsible zoos are continuing to engage in ethical breeding and responsible rehabilitation programmes as they have been doing for many years, and charities and organisations such as WWF, and Save The Rhino among many others aim to increase public awareness of the issues involved through numerous campaigns. Rhinos essentially have a huge list of organisations trying to help them. Being a part of the wildlife ‘superstar’ roster amongst other high profile species such as tigers and elephants is actually proving to be a benefit to the rhinoceros population.
Unfortunately it is not enough.
Whilst all these efforts may seem like a lot, in reality they are barely managing to keep up with the pace of the poachers who are growing in both numbers and inventiveness in their techniques, and they need help – lots of it – if they and the planet hold any hope of saving the rhinoceros population.
How can tourism help Rhino conservation?
Frankly ecotourism is big business, and can – when utilised correctly – not only help conserve many endangered species and their habitats, but also bring as much profit – if not more – to those who are actively helping to promote sustainable, ethical and responsible ways to see and interact with African rhinos.
One of the great experiences in travelling the world is being able to see and experience all that nature has to offer, yet to do that all travellers have an absolute responsibility to help conserve and protect our planet and its inhabitants too. So how do we ensure that we are either actively helping the rhino population on our travels, or at the very least ensure that they don’t hinder them and inadvertently or otherwise assist their slow extinction?
Take a tour or safari with an ethically responsible company.
Wildlife spotting is a massive draw for any traveller for obvious reasons, which is why safaris to see rhinos – as well as the other big stars – in their natural habitat have only ever gained in popularity. However you do have to do your research beforehand and ensure that the company you are going on a trek or safari with operates in an ethically sound way. Knowing what companies are responsible and which ones aren’t isn’t always an easy task and does require a bit of research beforehand. You need to ensure that the companies are not only adhering to but actively engaging in government and international guidelines for safaris and wildlife treks, and that they promote a minimal impact approach to their excursions. That means heading out in small groups, not getting too close to any animal or their habitat, not promising any interaction or viewings (those that do usually put the needs of the tourists and their profits over any concerns for the animals welfare), discouraging geotagging or posting photos with locations on social media (which can help the poachers find the rhino) and tours that never allow physical interaction with habitats or wildlife, including taking anything away as a souvenir. These are just a few of the things to look out for when choosing a responsible tour operator and is far from an exhaustive list, but it should offer you a starting point to begin thinking about the type of questions to ask.
As travellers, we have to ensure that rhino conservation is more profitable than poaching, which means supporting and patronising responsible tourist operations as much as possible.
These tours – when run ethically and responsibly – can not only help protect and conserve the rhino population, but can also provide a huge financial incentive for local populations to ensure that both rhinos and their habitats are protected by making conservation profitable. Rhino conservation, eco tours, responsible tourism, all of these can create jobs for locals and provide a huge tourism income for them and the local governments. By ensuring that ethical and responsible tourism and rhino spotting is as profitable – if not more so – than alternatives such as hunting and promoting, travellers can make a huge impact on conservation efforts.
Closely examine our own actions and behaviours as travellers.
Unfortunately there is still a great deal of travellers and tourists alike who cause more harm to wildlife and their habitats than good through their own actions. More often than not this is through ignorance and a lack of education or knowledge on the issues involved than out of any outright malice or intent, which is why each and every one of us needs to examine our own behaviours and motivations when seeing and interacting with all wildlife – not just rhinos – on our travels.
To ensure that our actions help conservation efforts and don’t hinder them, we have to ensure that our actions are responsible and ethical as they possibly can be.
The Bemused Backpacker Code Of Responsible Travel has been set up to promote a positive and responsible way of travel, and part of that is promoting animal welfare in the travel and gap year industries as well as educate backpackers, travellers and tourists on how to view and interact with animals in an ethical way on their travels.
Donate money or contribute to fundraising initiatives.
This is perhaps one of the easiest ways to help support those organisations who are aiming to save the rhino population. The benefits of doing so are pretty self evident, and helping campaigns such as the Just One Rhino campaign (more information on that below) even in a small way can have a much, much bigger impact than you realise.
Support accredited and ethical zoos with an active African rhino population.
This again requires some research because not all zoos are the same and in fact some are downright unethical. However, good zoos – when they get it right – can have a huge, positive impact on rhino conservation efforts. Many good zoos around the world who home African rhinos provide great habitats for the animals in their care and ensure those individual rhinos are well cared for, but it is about much more than that. Good zoos actually provide a great deal of information and education to the general public about many of the issues around rhino conservation, and increase the awareness of just how vital an issue it is to people who would not only have otherwise had no idea about the issues involved but would have had no personal connection with it. Seeing rhinos up close and learning about their plight can have a positive effect in changing mindsets and paradigms, and help fuel the conservation efforts in the general publics’ mass consciousness. They also contribute significantly – and not just financially – to the conservation efforts in the wild through programmes such as captive breeding that can help keep the species alive at its most basic function, but also assist in creating diversity within wild ecosystems.
Don’t fund the poachers.
Rhino poaching only happens for one reason. It is profitable. That’s it. If they didn’t make huge sums of money out of it, they wouldn’t do it. Rhinos are hunted and poached for their horn, which is then used to make everything from dagger handles and ornaments to ‘traditional’ medicine (none of which – and I can say this with some authority as a medical professional – have zero clinical evidence to suggest they work). So when you are out on your travels, refrain from buying any product which come from an endangered animal or has caused them to suffer. Far from the ethical concerns, you may even be breaking the law by transporting them across international borders.
By doing this, we can ensure that tourism can be a positive force in rhino conservation. We can ensure that our actions as world travellers can have a positive effect and help save the rhino population for generations to come. If we don’t, then the African rhino will become extinct within our lifetime. In conclusion, tourism can help conserve our rhino population, but only if you make the right choices out on the road.
How can you help right now?
The #JustOneRhino campaign is being run by Travellers Building Change alongside 125 of the worlds leading travel writers and bloggers in an effort to raise funds for the Rhinos Without Borders project. Rhinos Without Borders is spearheaded by National Geographic Explorers In Residence and wildlife conservation advocates Dereck and Beverly Joubert. The campaign is hoping to help the conservation efforts by translocating 100 rhinos from South Africa – where the risk of poaching is extremely high – to Botswana, where the rhinos and their habitat can be more easily protected.
This is not an easy task, nor is it a cheap one. The estimated cost is over $5 million!
This is why the campaign needs your help.
The cost of moving just one rhino is around $45,000 and this is why the #JustOneRhino campaign is hoping to raise at least that amount. Surely with so many rhinos to protect, so many to help, you can contribute to helping just one?
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