The recent death of Sudan, the last male northern white rhinosceros in the world, has highlighted the threat of extinction that looms over the southern white rhino.
Sudan, who lived in the Ol Pejeta conservancy in Kenya, was euthanased in March after his carers judged the pain from a degenerative illness had become too great. His death leaves only two females of his species alive – his daughter and granddaughter – and conservationists are hopeful that they will be able to use in vitro fertilization to keep Sudan’s species from dying out altogether.
The death of Sudan not only highlights what conservationists have termed “the extinction crisis”, it also brings into sharp focus the threat that poaching and the trade in rhino horn pose to Sudan’s close relative, the southern white rhino.
In just a decade, more than 7 245 African rhinos have been lost to poaching. In South Africa, the centre of the rhino killing, 1 028 rhino were killed for their horns last year. This equates to about three rhino every day of the year.
South Africa is home to more than 90% of the world’s remaining 20 000 white or square-lipped rhinoceros Ceratotherium simum and (together with its neighbour, Namibia) more than 80% of the black or hooked-lip rhinoceros Diceros bicornis.
Rhino poaching has exploded because of increased demand for rhino horn, mainly from Viet Nam where it is used as a traditional medicine for reducing temperature and purging the body and blood of toxins. A belief in the benefits of rhino horn persists in Viet Nam and other parts of Asia, even though doctors and scientists have tested its efficacy and found that users of rhino horn would get the same benefits if they ate their fingernails instead.
Although the South African government and the country’s wildlife conservation community are doing their best to curb rhino poaching, their resources are stretched to the limit. This is why Network for Animals has put its energy into helping to care for the health and wellbeing of dogs in the South African National Park’s canine anti-poaching units, situated in Addo Elephant Park and the Kruger National Park. These amazing dogs are used to sniff out illegal shipments of rhino horn and elephant ivory, and track poachers when they enter the National Parks. The dogs are force multipliers that do the work of 10 rangers – tracking poachers through thick African bush so that they may be arrested before they are able to kill rhinos and hack out their horns.
In the Addo Elephant Park, NFA has also donated a drone to the Park so that rangers can easily and cost effectively monitor large tracts of African bush, alerting their teams of trackers as soon as they become aware of a security breach.
“The dogs are an incredible help in the fight against rhino and elephant poaching and NFA is delighted to be able to contribute to their feeding and well-being,” said NFA campaign director, David Barritt. “Thanks to our supporters we are able to make this important contribution to the war against rhino poaching that is being waged across the wild areas of South Africa. Our ultimate goal is to avoid a situation where, as has happened with the Northern white rhino, we come face-to-face with the extinction of an iconic African animal in the course of our lifetime.”