It might not be long until rhinos are extinct. Kirsty Brebner from the Endangered Wildlife Trust gave an Eco talk at Wits on Thursday, highlighting the critical state in which rhinos are in.

ALL FOR A HORN: Kirsty Brebner compares what is made up of a horn equivalent to that of what's made up of a finger nail. She estimates that one rhino costs R350 000.                                                                                                              Photo: File Photo

ALL FOR A HORN: Kirsty Brebner compares what is made up of a horn equivalent to that of what’s made up of a finger nail. She estimates that one rhino costs R350 000. Photo: File Photo

According to Brebner the Western Black and Vietnamese rhinos are already extinct, “There should be a global horror,” she said.

“If you look at some of the costs, rhinos alone, assuming R350 000 per animal, which might be a little bit conservative, and considering the time since 2008 we’ve lost nearly 4 000 rhinos.

Poachers have moved south and now they have our population in their rifle sights

“That amounts to R1.35 billion in national assets. Can you imagine if somebody stole R1.35 billion diamonds, or gold? It would be an absolute national outcry,” Brebner said.

Brebner says that a project that was once called “Rhinos in Distress” is now called “Rhinos in Crisis”.

“Poachers have moved south and now they have our population in their rifle sights,” said Brebner.

Brebner gave specific numbers concerning rhino poaching, “Black rhino numbers were estimated to be about 100 000 in Africa in the early 1950’s, and we’ve probably got 4000 or 5000 left, 39% of those are in South Africa. The really major black rhino range states are Zimbabwe, Kenya and Namibia.

“The numbers [of rhinos poached] have escalated since then with a record of 1 215 animals killed and that’s a conservative estimate.”

When speaking about government involvement in this crisis, Brebner said: “The figures of this year are not available, the Department of Environmental Affairs, in their wisdom, have decided to stop issuing statements of statistics and are only going to do so every three or four months.”

The history of rhino poaching

In addressing the reasons behind the spike in rhino poaching Brebner said: “Well unfortunately rhinos have always been a subject of mythology and terrible persecution for their horns, for this strange atomical horn, that really is nothing more than what’s made up of your finger nails or hair.”

Brebner went on to describe the history of rhino poaching, rhino horns were used in traditional Chinese medicine for approximately 2000 years and it was used mainly to reduce fevers.

Contrary to popular belief she said there has been very little use of rhino horn as an aphrodisiac.

“But unfortunately because of the hype that the western media have had over rhino horn as an aphrodisiac, they’ve actually created a new market with that hype,” she said.

What we’ve done with communities is empowered their leaders to raise awareness and impart knowledge on the plight of the rhino

Action being taken to curb poaching

Brebner spoke about community involvement in the rhino poaching business, “Communities have generally been marginalized from conservation, for many years it really became a ‘them’ and ‘us’ situation, they were outside the fences and they considered what was inside the fences as something not to do with them.

“Communities are absolutely critical. Firstly they are the first to know when poachers come into the villages, they are the first to know when people suddenly have a lot of money, and people suddenly buy 4×4’s when they had a bicycle before.”

What we’ve done with communities is empowered their leaders to raise awareness and impart knowledge on the plight of the rhino, Brebner said.

As organised crime comes into communities, so does the moral and social decay that happens as people get large amounts of ill-gotten money.