Rhino poaching is exceeding even my own direst predictions this year, and I’m trying to understand why.
The Serengeti is one of the world’s largest protected wildernesses, nearly 5000 sq. miles when combined with the adjacent Ngorongoro Conservation Area. There are now only 4 wild rhinos left in this area, after one was found dead this holiday season – it’s horn removed.
This is the most recent of an extraordinary run of killings, most of which were in South Africa where the poaching is more mafia-like, corporate. In East Africa it’s usually individuals working alone.
I wrote about rhino poaching only a few weeks ago but I’m particularly incensed about this loss in the Serengeti. I’ve personally seen poached rhinos several times in northern Tanzania during my career, and try as I have to understand the poor bloke (poacher) just trying to make a buck, the harder it becomes.
Why should I – a foreigner from a distant land – be angry with an impoverished Tanzanian who has tried everything right in his life to get a job and support a family, and just can’t? Who has the daring to kill a dangerous animal? Who has the wherewithal to find the onerous black market?
It’s one thing when you know – as I did in 1998 on the crater floor – that it was a well-paid ranger working in cahoots with the Conservator of the park. But it seems different when it’s a single individual who just can’t get a job and has tried.
So this current surge in poaching I originally linked to the economic downturn. But Africa pulled out of the economic downturn long before we did and has been essentially surging for the last year.
And that’s the key.
Like here at home, the rich are now comfortable with spending their money, again. And it’s the rich to whom the rhino horns go. Mostly to Yemen, but throughout the lower Mideast where rhino horns are prized as much or greater than ivory in Asia.
Like ivory, they carve beautifully and buff even better. Traditionally they were used as dagger handles in male rite de passage ceremonies where Dad gives Butch a special present. Now a days they tend to be made into commercial sculptures and sold like stolen Picassos.
These are the culprits, much more so than the desperate father encouraged to make the actual kill. There’s a real analogy here with the illicit drug market in the U.S. For sure the Mexican mafia are bad guys. But it’s the users of cocaine, not the growers of poppy, who are the real satans.
Important Note: black rhino will not go extinct. They are thriving in private reserves, zoos and small, contained wildernesses like Lake Nakuru. They thrive as they have since appearing on earth because they are big and eat almost anything. They have no predators, except man.
But in the wild, the true open wilderness, their days are numbered. Perhaps it’s time to just come to accept this fact of the modern world. At least until the rich and greedy can be controlled. And that I don’t see happening soon.