The Western Black Rhino is Extinct — But We Can Still Save the Others

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Rhinoceros poaching is at an all time high. Of the five remaining species of rhinoceros, three are considered to be critically endangered. If illegal hunting of these pachyderms isn’t curbed soon, then they may disappear forever.

South Africa, the country with the largest population of rhinos, has seen an astounding increase in reported poaching incidents. In 2014, at least 1,215 rhinos were killed illegally — whereas just ten years prior there were only ten recorded occurrences of rhino poaching.

Rhinoceros poaching, however, is not isolated to South Africa — it is widespread throughout the continent, and is primarily driven by a sizable demand for rhinoceros’ keratin horns.

Rhino horns, which are made from the same material as your hair and fingernails, are used as a sort of cure-all in a number of Asian cultures — although there is no evidence to substantiate claims that it can cure anything. Any suggestion that a rhino horn has any medicinal value is based entirely on superstition.

But superstition can be powerful. In Vietnam, rhino horn is worth as much as $100,000 per kilogram — even more than gold. Rhino horn is used as a party drug, a cancer cure, and a status symbol by some of the wealthiest Vietnamese citizens.

Esmond Bradley Martin via WWF.org

Esmond Bradley Martin via WWF.org

While the money being shelled out for expensive rhino-horn-laced products has not been proven to actually benefit anyone’s health, the boom in demand means very real consequences for the victims of poaching.

In 2013, the Western black rhino (pictured below) was declared extinct. The last recorded spotting occurred in 2006, and the species was thereafter eradicated, predominantly due to poaching and insufficient conservation efforts.

Gary Stolz via USFWS

Gary Stolz via USFWS

Recent anti-poaching efforts, however, have garnered some success. Vetpaw has been running a program that hires former U.S. veterans to peacefully educate communities and prevent the illegal hunting of threatened animals — you can find out more about the project right here.

South Africa’s Greater Kurger National Park has employed over two dozen women from surrounding villages to patrol the reserve and educate their communities to prevent domestic poaching. Since the assemblage of the team, known as the Black Mambas, the reserve has only lost two rhinos, and has seen a major drop in snare poaching.

First all-female anti-poaching in Africa, 'Black Mambas,' Jeffrey Barbee/The Guardian

First all-female anti-poaching in Africa, ‘Black Mambas,’ Jeffrey Barbee/The Guardian


With continued conservation and peaceful anti-poaching efforts, we may yet be able to protect the remaining species of rhinoceros from extinction.


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Matthew M. Sullivan holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Grand Valley State University, with emphases in fiction and nonfiction. He lives smack-dab between some railroad tracks and Grand Rapids Michigan's third-busiest road, and spends his time studying film and literary fiction.