Posted by WorkingAbroad Projects on Wednesday, 21st January 2015
Like many other wild animals, rhinos have suffered greatly from hunters and poachers coming to claim their rhino horn as a trophy or commodity to be sold elsewhere. Rhinos used to roam freely across Eurasia and Africa, yet human activity and prosecution have been disastrous to the numbers of wild rhinos.
In the early 20th century, the rhino population living in the wild was estimated at 500,000 on a global scale. A number that now has decreased to less than 30,000. All five rhino species are currently on the IUCN Redlist of threatened species, with three of them classified as critically endangered.
While numbers can vary, there is no doubt that the current level of wild rhinos is critically low. Poaching of rhinos has spiked in the past years, not unlike what has been the case with elephants and lions. In South Africa alone, it has been estimated that 1116 rhinos were killed in 2014, according to the South African Department of Environmental Affairs. In the past five years: 3569 rhinos!
There are many reasons as to why rhinos are killed. The threats include habitat loss and political conflicts, yet rhinos are mainly poached due to their valuable horns. The demand for ivory has spiked in China and other Asian countries, so has the demand for rhino horn, particularly in Vietnam. While it initially has been used for traditional medicine, it has also become a symbol of status; a means to display success and wealth. As South Africa is home to the vast majority of rhinos, it has been the main country to which poachers and collectors have gone in their quest for rhino horn.
Our Kariega Game Reserve project is a conservation programme located along the South African coastline, not too far from Port Elizabeth. It is home to several endangered species such as lions, leopards, elephants and rhinos next to other wildlife native to the region. This has unfortunately also made Kariega vulnerable to poachers like any other wildlife area in South Africa.
On 2 March 2012, three rhinos were poached at Kariega Game Reserve. Two survived and were named Thandiswa and Themba; Xhosa names meaning courage (or to be loved) and hope. Themba did unfortunately not make it due to a serious infection, and thus died three weeks after the incident. Thandiswa, or Thandi, has shown great strength and resilience in staying alive, having been through numerous operations and treatments. Then in December 2013, a blood test showed that she was pregnant.
On 13 January 2015, at 8:50am, two Kariega rangers witnessed from a distance Thandi give birth to her calf. Doctor William Fowlds, wildlife vet who has been taking care of Thandi for the past three years, was also there to experience the small miracle in Kariega. Both are healty and strong, protected in an area off-limits for visitors, as it is of great importance that they are left undisturbed to ensure the best chances for survival of the calf.
Rhinos, elephants, lions and many other species that once were roaming the African savannahs have become the main subjects of a war based on the human need to illustrate power and wealth. It is a war that wildlife will not win on their own, but only with help from conservationists, rangers and others that fight for them every day.
Thandi has become a symbol of hope to the rhino population, and a remarkable ambassador for the many dedicated people fighting the war to end rhino poaching. If you are interested in joining in our conservation efforts, get your hands dirty and join our Conservation Volunteer Programme. It has never been more important to engage as many as possible to secure the survival and wellbeing of Africa’s beautiful wildlife.
- By Charlotte Laursen, WorkingAbroad Team
Please see below for a video showcasing Thandi's story:
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