Powerful, ruggedly-skinned, and armed with fearsome-looking horns, rhinos look anything but fragile and vulnerable. But the mighty rhinoceros is again facing a very bleak future, at the hands of increasingly-organized poaching gangs. They have ramped up their rhino-killing rampage in the last few years, as horn prices have soared. Booming demand for rhino horn in Asia, stoked up by false claims of its medicinal benefits, have made the rhino's horn worth its weight in gold - fueling a ferocious assault on these symbols of the savanna.
But the rhino, and those who love these mighty pachyderms, are fighting back. South Africa is taking a tough stance on the rhino-poaching gangs, meeting with some success. And World Rhino Day 2011, taking place on the 22nd of September, hopes to drive home the message - horns are for rhinos, not for fake medicines. This will be the second outing for World Rhino Day, aimed at raising awareness globally of the plight of the 5 remaining rhino species.Last years event was a noisy and successful affair, with those concerned about the fate of the rhino urged to toot on their vuvuzelas - or nearest equivalent noise-making horn - so helping to put pressure on governments to act. And act they did - the South African army deployed a brigade to protect rhino around the Kruger National Park, at a time when rhino were being killed in numbers unprecedented for a decade.
Poachers given bloody nose
The number of rhinos being killed in South Africa rocketed from 15 per year, at the start of the millennium, to 83 in 2008, 122 in 2009 and 330 in 2010. Although this year has got off to a bloody start - with 193 rhinos felled for their horns - the arrival of 165 soldiers of the 21 South African Infantry Battalion in March has had a big impact.
In the last 3 months, rhino poaching incidents have fallen to 30 in April, 15 in May and just 2 in June. Despite this initial local success, the threat to rhinos is unlikely to remain at bay for long. Zimbabwe is also experiencing a traumatic rise in rhino poaching, and with the huge amounts of money to be made from rhino horn, it is likely to propel rhino poaching into more organized and violent forms.
Raise a racket for rhinos
So ultimately, the solution to the rhino crisis - there are just 4,800 black rhinos left in the world - lies with tackling the demand for rhino horn, especially in the traditional medicine markets of Vietnam and China. That is why SavingRhinos, the conservation group kicking off World Rhino Day this year, is focusing much of its activities on awareness and education. T-shirts, videos and pamphlets under the slogans 'My horn is NOT medicine' and 'Bust the Myth - Save the Species' are available in both Mandarin and Vietnamese.
The PARC in Chitwan National Park in Nepal is also planning events for the day, to make a noise for the rhino; and TRAFFIC SE Asia, part of the WWF-sponsored wildlife trade monitoring network, is will include rhinos in its program throughout September. So if you want to do your bit to blow the horn for rhinos, a Facebook event page has been set up by the Chishakwe ranch, prominent in rhino conservation in Zimbabwe. And mark the 22nd September as a date to raise a racket.
Top Image Credit: Rhino family with 2 calves, Kruger NP, South Africa © gallas