Unicorns, mythical beasts that are confined to fairy tales and children’s storybooks, right? Wrong. If you come to South Africa and look deep into the African bush you might just see one. No, I’m not talking about the fabled horses/goat type animal with flowing manes and a single horn, but rather something that is more prehistoric, a critically endangered herbivore, a mammal with stunning grey skin, and two beautiful but deadly horns.
On September the 22nd, 2019 we celebrate World Rhino Day. Rhinos once roamed throughout Europe, Asia and Africa, and were depicted by early Europeans in cave paintings. Within historical times, rhinos were still widespread across Africa’s savannas and Asia’s tropical forests. On a single day, numerous amounts of rhinos could be seen in large herds, now if you are lucky enough you may get to see one when out on Safari in the African Bush. Today, very few rhinos survive outside protected areas. And almost all five species are threatened, primarily through poaching.
World Rhino Day was first established in 2010 in South Africa, this day has now gained international recognition and it is celebrated by a variety of organizations and individuals from around the world.
World Rhino Day celebrates all five of the surviving species:
- Southern white rhinoceros or square-lipped rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum simum)
- Northern white rhinoceros or northern square-lipped rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum cottoni)
- Southern-central black rhino (Diceros bicornis minor)
- South-western black rhino (Diceros bicornis occidentalis)
- East African black rhino (Diceros bicornis michaeli)
At EcoTraining we are cognoscente of the important role that rhino play in both tourism and conservation and we are, therefore grateful to the founders of this day and the huge amount of work that has been done to make it the worldwide phenomenon that it has become in such a short space of time.
How can you tell the difference between black and white rhino?
Size: Firstly, the white rhino is a lot larger in size in comparison to the black rhino. A white rhino female weighs about 1, 700kg and the male about 2,300 kg, compared with a black rhino which weighs between 800 – 1,400 kg.
The white rhino is considerably larger than the black rhino and has a distinctive ‘barrel-shaped’ body. The black rhino is slighter, smaller and more compactly built than its counterpart due to the different habitats they roam.
Body shape: The white rhino is much longer, bigger and weightier looking, whereas the black rhino is shorter and more compact.
Feeding and mouth structure: One of the greatest differences between the two is the shape of their mouths. A white rhino has a very broad, flat, wide lip, which makes perfect sense as it is a grazer and requires a mouth designed for feeding on grass. A black rhino is a browser and feeds on leaves, shoots and branches. As a result, it has a more pointed soft beak-like prehensile lip, which it uses to grab hold branches than can often be very spikey.
Horn: The white rhino has longer front horn with a much shorter second horn. The black rhino tends to have a slightly shorter front horn and longer second, meaning that its two horns are more similar in length.
Habitat: Although the habitats of black and white rhino may sometimes overlap, there are definitely specific areas that you would expect to see either a black or a white rhino. A white rhino will typically be found in grasslands or in areas that are open, whereas a black rhino will be found in thickets and dense bushes this is again due to their feeding habits.
These are just a few differences between these mighty giants.
The Poaching Crisis:
The current rhino poaching crisis began in 2008, with massive numbers of rhinos killed for their horn throughout Africa. From around 2016 there has thankfully been a decrease in the number of rhinos poached across Africa since the peak of 1,349 poached in 2015.
However, there are still two and a half rhinos killed every single day: there is still a lot more to do.
South Africa holds nearly 80% of the world’s rhinos and has been the country hit hardest by poachers, with more than 1,000 rhinos killed each year between 2013 and 2017.
At 769 recorded poaching incidents in South Africa in 2018, poaching numbers are still high. As you can see in the graph above the numbers show a decrease in both South Africa and Africa as a whole in comparison to 2017, when a whopping number of 1,028 rhino were poached in South Africa.
According to Save The Rhino this positive sign does not mean rhinos are now thriving. It shows at least two rhinos were killed each day in 2018. Furthermore, the cumulative impact of the poaching crisis is taking its toll, as well as the prolonged drought affecting food and water resources.
This decline in the amount of rhino poached may demonstrate that the anti-poaching work taking place is having an effect, or it could also mean that there are significantly fewer rhinos surviving in the wild, therefore it is getting harder for poachers to locate them.
White rhino (c) David Batzofin
Do you know what a rhino’s horn is made of?
Rhino horn is made up primarily of keratin – a protein found in our hair and fingernails, as well as animal hooves. To get more technical about it, the rhinoceros’ horn is a chemical complex and contains large quantities of sulphur-containing amino acids, particularly cysteine, as well as tyrosine, histidine, lysine, and arginine, and the salts calcium carbonate and calcium phosphate.
What is rhino horn used for?
In traditional Asian medicine, rhino horn has been used for more than 2,000 years to treat fever, rheumatism, gout, and other disorders. It also states that the horn could also cure snakebites, hallucinations, typhoid, headaches, carbuncles, vomiting, food poisoning, and “devil possession.” When used, the horn is shaved or ground into a powder, before being dissolved in boiling water and consumed. As seen in the graph above, in 2008 there was a massive increase in demand for rhino horn, this was due to the false belief that it could cure cancer.
Have you heard that rhino horn is used as an aphrodisiac? The most popular belief in Western countries is that rhino horn is used as an aphrodisiac, but this is not correct and seems to have been misunderstood or misinterpreted by Western media. However, research has shown that people in Vietnam are starting to, unfortunately, believe that this rumour is true. There has been a recent surge in demand for rhino horn in Vietnam, where it is being used as a hangover cure.
The international trade of rhino horn is banned under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora). In recent years in South Africa, there has been a call to legalise the trade of rhino horn, this in itself it a whole new debate, if you want to know more about this, the Department of Environmental Affairs wrote this paper.
Shiluva pictures above, is from the Makuleke Community just outside the Northern Kruger National Park and is on the EcoTraining 1-year Professional Field Guide Course. She grew up hearing folk tales from here parents and elders about the magnificent rhinoceros. Listen as Shiluva tells the story of how the hippo lost its horn, and how the rhino ended up with two!
Have you seen or heard about rhinos being dehorned? Watch the EcoTraining TV YouTube video to find out more:
So, after hearing all the stories and learning about the rhino do you think you are up to the task of taking our EcoTraining Rhino Quiz? Click here to see how clued up you are about rhinos and their conservation.
With World Rhino Day in mind, let’s all do our part and sharing this message of rhino conservation far and wide.