By Didi Reuschel
Today, the book about Douwlina, an endangered white rhinoceros was awarded Silver Medalist – Environmental Issues by the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards, a great honor. But, the story of Douwlina is more than a children’s book. It’s the true story about an orphaned baby rhino whose mother was slain for her horn. Douwlina’s story began when she lost her mother to poachers. Because she was a baby and had no horn, she was spared. In Africa, where Douwlina lives, there were once over 100,000 of these smart, magnificent animals. Now, there are less than 20,000 on the entire continent, and one is poached every day in her Kruger Park alone. At the current rate of killing, it is expected they will be extinct within our lifetime.
Kathleen Kelly, co owner of Kevin’s Fine Outdoor Gear & Apparel, traveled to South Africa this summer and spent time on the Leopard Rock preserve to meet Douwlina and other endangered rhino’s. The outrage about the rhino poaching goes beyond their killing. With a cold blooded cruelty, the horns are actually ripped from the animal’s heads and slowly, the rhino suffers in pain until death from bleeding and infection. The ones that are found and heal (though most don’t survive even after treatment) suffer a “ heart-breaking melancholy” [i] at the loss of their horns – they know something awful has happened to them; and they can no longer protect themselves in the wild.
There are many global organizations, especially in Africa, fighting to stop the poaching and bring awareness to the public. Well known globally, Prince William, David Beckham and Yao Ming have joined together to try to save these animals by changing the mindset of the end user’s and their demands for the rhino horn. Through a series of Public Service Announcements, these men are educating the Chinese and Vietnamese in understanding that the rhino horn’s have no medicinal value as they implore their audience to focus on protecting rhino’s from extinction. One powerful image they use, shows if all the rhino’s left in the world were together, they would fit inside a soccer stadium.[ii]
It’s incredible, but the rising demand for rhino (and elephant) horns is driven by an Asian belief that the powder can cure cancer, hangovers and impotence. Even worse, the rhino horn powder is a status symbol of wealth. In Vietnam, giving a gift of rhino horn powder designates power. Wealthy men want this powder and demand is strong; the more difficult it is to find rhino horn, the more prestigious. “The rhino horn is being swallowed by a small segment of the Vietnamese population who can afford prices of about $65,000 a kilogram, conservation groups say.”[iii] This is what funds the poachers in Africa, who are paid well for their efforts.
In China and Thailand it is a medicinal powder with no validation of effectiveness, simply an old wives tale passed on through the generations.
This increasing demand from Asia, coming from people with the money to pay, has created a violent criminal syndicate which stops at nothing to get the horns. In Kruger National Park , South Africa, the park service has turned its rangers into soldiers, using drones to patrol airspace, along with helicopters as soon as poachers are suspected. [iv] “A spokesman for WildAid, which campaigns to end the illegal wildlife trade, said the ivory trade claims the lives of an estimated 25,000 elephants annually and as of September 5th, at least 618 rhinos were killed for their horns which may break last year’s record of 668 poached rhinos. “ [v]
Incredibly, the horn does not need to be cruelly ripped from the rhino’s snout. Rhino horns are composed largely of the protein keratin, also the chief component in hair, fingernails, and animal hooves. They can be shaved down or trimmed. Unlike the horns of most animals, which have a bony core covered by a relatively thin layer of keratin, rhino horns are keratin all the way through. In fact, scientists can determine geographic location of a rhino by the makeup of the keratin, because the food they eat are in the horns chemical makeup . This fact allows ecologist Raj Amin of the Zoological Society of London and his colleagues to take “fingerprints” of horn samples and determine the animal populations they came from, which has helped law enforcement officials target and crack down on poaching.[vi] In the pictures of Dowlina and friends, the horns have been shaved, keeping poachers away, for without the horn, the rhinos have no value.
Though Kathleen is an avid hunter, the distinction must be made that in controlled, conservation hunting, animals killed are for food and herd control to allow the animal or bird population to remain healthy. There is a profound respect for the animals and nature. If populations become too dense, the animals become sickly and the herd dies off due to lack of food in the wild. Controlled hunting, keeps the animal population large enough to thrive but not so large, they starve and become sick. The poachers of the rhinos are cruel with money as their motivation; they discard the injured rhino’s to die a slow, painful death. Hunters, respect their bounty and will do anything in their power to keep an animal from suffering. The poacher will kill anyone or anything in their way to savagely mutilate a rhino only for it’s horn, leaving the animal to suffer until it dies.
There are many organizations to help end the poaching and destruction of rhino’s, elephants and other animals killed by syndicated poachers. It is a global problem which requires global action – every person can make a difference in helping save the rhinoceros from extinction.
[i] Elephant, Rhino Poaching is A Brutal Disaster, by Libby Leyden-Susser, Fresh Talk, The Hartford Courant October 18, 2013
[ii] Rhino poaching hits new high in South Africa, experts warn of extinction in wild by Jon Herskovitz, Reuters, October 1, 2013 2:31pm
[iv] Rhino poaching hits new high in South Arica, experts warn of extinction in wild by Jon Herskovitz, Reuters, October 1, 2013 2:31pm
[vi] David Beckham and Prince William pictured together for campaign against ivory and rhino horn, by Paul Cockerton, The Mirror News, September 13, 2013