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World Rhino day | Rhino conservation and history

Happy world Rhino day!

Today we're going to look back at the history of rhino and conservation work in South Africa to help understand the future of these iconic animals.

Rhino history and culture

Rhino have a long and complex relationship with mankind and our cultural heritage. From the European myths of unicorn originating from fossils of woolly rhino discovered by medieval peoples. In the middle east, rhino horn has been used as a scabbard to create ceremonious knives called “Jambyia”, these knives are presented to boys when they enter adulthood.

Now our relationship with rhino has shifted to more corrupt and malicious tones. Excessive poaching is operated by crime syndicates across Africa to fuel demand for horn in Asia’s emerging middle and upper. This strikes a similar parallel to a previous wave of decimation to Rhino populations during the 18th and 19th century when an emerging European middle and upper class hunted Rhino excessively across Africa and Asia.

Current population estimates

Today population estimates for all Rhino Species are around 27,000 globally. White – The most populous species at around 15,000 found mainly in South Africa and other Southern Africa countries, their population has been declining steadily since a peak of 20,000 in 2011.

Black – Around 5,000 and thanks to tremendous effort slowly increasing!

Greater one horn – Found in the Indian Subcontinent with a population around 3,500.

Sumatran – Less than 100 in total, critically endangered.

Javan – Less than 100 in total, critically endangered.

Rhino populations naturally and before the intervention of industrialised hunting were in excess of 500,000 globally. We now risk the immediate extinction of both Sumatran and Javan Rhino.

Bellow: A Black Rhino recorded on a camera trap taken during our wildlife behavioural research project.

Hope for tomorrow | A conservation success story

The great strength of history is the understanding of its past successes. At the end of the 19th century, Southern White Rhino where thought to be completely extinct. Then in 1895 a population fewer than 100 rhino was discovered in South Africa.

With a renewed sense of purpose and hope, this population of White Rhino where protected and conserved. With intense habitat management, breeding programs and over a centuries worth of work, that population has grown to the 15,000 it is today.

A "Brought back from the brink" story like no other.

Current challenges | Rhino and wildlife poaching

The ebbing and flow of human history has once again affected our relationship with Rhino. The economic disruptions the 2009 recession as well as the covid 2019 pandemic have caused an increase in poverty and thus crime and poaching, once again causing a challenge for Rhino populations.

The conservation work carried out daily by passionate individuals, organisations, government groups across Africa, Asia and the world are paramount in protect these animals for future generations. In addition, we would like to thank Hamba Africa volunteers for their work towards conservation in support of these animals.

The more we understand these animals, the more habitat is protected and the more economies transition into sustainable economies with eco-tourism, social enterprises and co-operative initiatives developing in the rural areas that these species survive in, the better their chances.

How to help | Donate, volunteer and more

To anyone who would like to support these enigmatic animals, you can do so through many ways both back home or directly on the conservation front line.

Donate to groups like Work with your local area to promote bio-diversity and environmental management… help minimise the fallout from the climate crisis which will effect both rhino as well as wildlife everywhere. Join us in South Africa as a wildlife volunteer and as part of our Long term wildlife volunteer placement to help research and manage rhino populations directly.

Below: Long Term wildlife volunteers feed and injured mother White Rhino during the dry season, South Africa.

In celebration

There’s much to be appreciative of with these animals, their beauty, strength and even gentility with how the treat each other and their young.

We would like to make a point that the lesson Rhinos can teach about courage and determination. That even a population of animal reduced to as few as less than 100 can, as shown in the past, with tremendous effort and undeviating sense of will be restored… A reminder that a situation is never hopeless!

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