I’m sure that most of the folks who read our blogs are animal and bird lovers, so I guess I’m preaching to the converted here when I say that our war against rhino poachers needs all the soldiers we can muster. We’ve recently spent time on a birding weekend in the Kruger National Park with some SANParks Voluntary Rangers (from the West Rand Region) and we heard about their fund-raising efforts for, amongst other things, the protection of rhinos in the national parks. I should imagine that every killing must make the authorities feel like they are taking three steps forward and two steps back.
Funnily enough, in spite of the vast numbers that are being poached at the moment, we were fortunate enough to come across a number of rhinos on our short visit to Kruger. These bulky, prehistoric-looking animals lumber around peacefully unaware of the price they have on their heads (literally) and what danger they’re in from unscrupulous poachers. The threat comes from poachers of all nationalities, but it would seem mainly from Mozambicans who have easy access to the Park.
I’m always devastated when I hear of South Africans being caught poaching, or masterminding poaching operations, as I feel they are destroying our heritage and should know better. The Asians who call for rhino horn are far removed from the area so are not impacted by what is going on here. That is no excuse however.
The Rhinose Foundation that collects money for the conservation of rhinos, has decided that an effective way to tackle the problem is to get the Asians to see for themselves what their predilection for rhino horn is doing in Africa. They use much of their funding to bring delegations from Asia to the Park to witness first-hand the death and destruction that is taking place here and to take back the message to their people that this must stop before it’s too late. Hopefully by educating famous people, like singers or TV personalities who have large fan bases, they can spread the word and make a change back home.
Members of the South African Parliament are also being brought in to see what is happening so that they can go back and promulgate harsher laws against poachers. One can only hope that this will be effective in the long term.
Last year 1216 rhinos were poached in South Africa. Three weeks into February 2015 and already 166 have been killed. Who knows if the beautiful rhinos featured in our photos here will still be alive in a month’s time. What a sad thought that is and what a tragedy for future generations if we don’t win this battle.
Over the past three weeks I have blogged about the animals known in southern Africa as ‘The Big Five.” Today it’s the turn of the rhinoceros, of which there are two species in our region – the Black rhinoceros and the White rhinoceros. As I stated before, the Big Five get their name from being the most dangerous and difficult animals to track and hunt, and the rhinoceros is therefore not a docile animal by any means. Although rhinos have poor eyesight, their sense of smell and hearing is highly developed and, combined with the ability to run at high speeds, they can be quite deadly when they break into a charge and use their horns for ramming their victims. They often charge for no apparent reason, probably to determine whether an object is a threat to them or not.
These enormous beasts have a prehistoric appearance with their thick hides folding over their legs and shoulders to look almost as if they are wearing a suit of armour. They sport two horns on their long faces – a small one at the back and a large one in the front. Their name is derived from the Latin meaning nose and horn. The horns are made of keratin, the same composition as our hair and nails. Unfortunately for the rhinoceros, their horns are believed to have medicinal properties and for this reason they are being poached into extinction as they fetch extremely high prices on the black market. See my blog “Where have all the rhinos gone” about this serious problem.
The two African species are easy to identify by the different shapes of their mouths. Black rhinos have prehensile upper lips because they are browsers, whilst White rhinos have wide square lips that are suitable for grazing. They both have barrel-shaped bodies, but differ in size, with the Black rhino being much smaller than the White rhino. The browsers prefer a diet of branches, thorns and leaves so their habitat is treed or bushy, and the grazers mainly eat short grass which is found in more open bushveld. Both require plenty of drinking water and enjoy wallowing in mud to cool themselves down. Black rhinos are solitary and moody as opposed to the more sociable White rhinos which live in small groups with a territorial male.
Females have a single calf, born throughout the year after a gestation period of about 16 months. Calves remain with their mothers for up to four years and when they are seen together, the calf is usually walking in front of its mother.
If they are left alone by poachers, rhinos have a life expectancy of between 40 and 45 years. Their main predator is man and they are sometimes taken by lions.