There were a million reasons I chose to go to Africa at the start of the year, but one of the top three was to see rhinos in the wild. While I still have the chance. I don’t like that modifier, but if I’m being realistic, it’s probably necessary.
Wildlife conservation is something I think about an awful lot. There are so many dilemmas there. I don’t believe that humans control the success or demise of a species, or even the world itself. In all the talk about saving the planet, I’m firmly in the camp that the planet does not need saving and that it’s awfully self-important of us as a species to think it does. HUMANS need saving. If we continue to fuck with the planet, it will purge us and re-balance itself. The planet will be fine. We’re only taking ourselves down when we act irresponsibly. But to take animals down WITH us? It’s unfair. Perhaps inevitable, but it’s my argument for being a defender of animal welfare.
I do think that in the normal course of life, species will go extinct. That’s sad but at a certain point it’s the natural order of things. But when it’s largely human actions pushing any species to extinction, that’s when I do agree that we try our damndest to turn it around. Even when it seems impossible.
(There’s a really great, recent episode of Radiolab on Galapagos that pokes at a lot of these issues. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, it’s a good listen.)
I don’t really remember when or how rhinos became one of my favourites. I love pretty much all animals but for some reason, I just think rhinos are awesome. I was lucky enough to see White Rhinos on two separate occasions on my trip. But rhinos are so threatened that they’re guarded by rangers with guns and shoot-to-kill permission. I had an ongoing debate with one of the guys in the group over whether these animals were actually wild because of how heavily protected they were. I do think they still count as wild. It’s not as though they’re in a zoo, they’re just monitored as closely as possible. And even with all that protection, they still get poached.
The biggest threat to rhinos is poaching. Something that is completely the fault of human attitude, and could be eradicated if only people decided to stop. It’s not that easy of course, but it still blows my mind that we are selfish enough as a species to think of an autonomous living creature as the kind of property we can just pick apart because we’ve decided (wrongly, although that barely matters) that a part of it has some property that heals various minor ailments. Or that it’s a status symbol.
I mean, really, who do we think we are?!
The first time I saw a picture of a rhino that had it’s face cut off for its horn, I wasn’t expecting it. It was in a World Wildlife Fund mailer about the current problems in Africa. I cried. It’s one of the most horrible things I’ve ever seen. I still get really upset when I see pictures of it.
Rhino horns are made of keratin – the same thing human nails and hair are made of. It doesn’t heal anything or make you better at anything. And the even more frustrating thing is that you CAN cut a rhino’s horn off without killing it. They do it on the reserves to deter poachers. But demand is so high and ridiculous that rhinos whose horns have been trimmed down STILL get poached for the wee bit left. Poachers just hack off their face and leave them for dead. And they have technology and helicopters and automatic weapons. Poaching is big business.
I can’t even begin to explain all the problems and the frustrations of rhino conservation here, but Save the Rhino details them well. The reason I’m writing about this now is that today is World Rhino Day, and rhinos are my cause. So if you’re moved by any of this, read about the problem. Learn the issues and donate a bit so that rangers on the reserves get more help, or the programmes for public education in the countries demanding rhino horn can grow. It’s so hard to fight against the organised crime of poaching, but we have to try. Even if you never personally get to see a rhino in the wild, wouldn’t it be nice to know they’re safely there, going about their rhino business? I think so.
I’ve painted my nails as part of Save the Rhino’s Nail It For Rhinos campaign and I’ll be telling people about it all day. If you’re reading this, I nominate you to donate! And paint your nails if you’re into that. I never EVER paint my nails, so it was quite an endeavour for me. And I fully realise that putting a bit of polish on my nails isn’t directly going to save a rhino, but it helps start a conversation, and that’s how you start a change on the simplest level.
In the UK, you can text NAIL14 £3 to 70070. Everywhere else, donate online. Every little bit helps!
Rhinos can’t thank you, but they can go on being rhinos. And I can thank you for reading and for helping out.