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.
Did you know that “the number of rhinos poached in South Africa since the beginning of this year now stands at 281 with a total of 176 individuals arrested in connection with rhino poaching?” EcoTraining Camp Manager Emma Summers talk to us about Rhino Poaching Prevention.
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.
It seems unfair that the Hippo did not make it onto the Big 5 list. Surely, since they are the 3rd largest land mammal after the elephant and the white rhino, and they are considered to be the most dangerous, they deserve some sort of recognition? That being said there are many stories and legends about the huge ‘River Horse’.
Here are some of the facts that you might not know about this fearsome creature:
- Given the right conditions, a hippo can live up to 40 years.
- When hippos bask in the sun, they secrete a red, oily substance. This has given rise to the myth that they ‘sweat blood’. The liquid is a natural sunblock and moisturizer.
- Although it seems that hippos can submerge for inordinately long periods of time, they need to surface every 3-5 minutes to breathe. This is a natural reflex and can be done even when the animal is sleeping.
- Despite their bulk, hippos can attain speeds of up to 30 km per hour over short distances.
- They spend most of their time in the water although they leave the water in the cooler parts of the day and night in order to forage for vegetation. They have been known to walk up to 10km in order to find food. Considering their bulk, the fact that they can consume up to 68kg in a night is a relatively small amount.
- Hippo’s are not only territorial in water, but it is also when they are out of the water that hippo can be extremely aggressive towards humans. They have been called the most dangerous animal in Africa as they have been known to cause many a death, especially in communities that are near or are surrounded by water.
- Much like the Rock Hyrax is the closest living relatives to the elephant, the hippo is closely related to whales and porpoises. Albeit that their evolutionary paths diverged about 55 million years ago.
- Both reproduction and birth take place in water, and it is here that the huge bulls become fiercely territorial. Adult males have been known to injure or kill both females and youngsters when competing for space.
- Hippos can neither swim nor float! They give that impression while they are in the water, when in fact they are walking along the bottom surface.
- Often seen rearing up out of the water, mouth agape, this is not a yawn but a sign of aggression. Accompanied by a loud series of grunts and honks, it is a warning not to be taken lightly.
A famous South African hippo:
One of the most famous South African hippos was Huberta (originally called Hubert, she was correctly named after her death). Her fame lasted for three years as she walked several thousands of kilometre from KwaZulu Natal to King Williams Town in the Eastern Cape back in 1928. No one knows what started her walking, but she certainly captured the attention of the media, both local and international during this time.
An African myth about hippos:
How the hippo came to live in the water is one story that is often repeated around an evening campfire. Many millennia ago, most of the African animals lived together on land and only very few could be found in the rivers and lakes. The baking hot sun caused many of them discomfort, but they were lucky and had feathers, fur or scales to protect them from the energy-sapping rays. However, Hippo’s skin had none of that protection and as he grew in size his skin stretched and became extremely sensitive to the harsh rays of the sun. Finally, Hippo could endure it no more. He asked the Creator if he could live in the water to keep cool and protect his sensitive skin. “You may”, said the Creator. “You must ask the permission of those already living in the water as you are large, and they fear that you will eat all their food”. To allay their fears, Hippo explained that he did not eat fish, but only consumed the vegetation that could be found on the riverbanks. As the river inhabitants were still sceptical, Hippo made them the following solemn promise. “I will open my mouth wide every day, in order for you to see that there are no fish bones or scales in my mouth. And I will use my tail to spread my dung, to prove that there no bones” Finally, the river animals were convinced and from that day forth, the hippo has lived in the water, opening his mouth and spreading his dung. The next time you come across a hippo, take a moment and give it the respect that it deserves.
Do you have any specific questions about hippos you would like answered? Is there another specific non-Big 5 animal you would like us to write about? Drop us a comment below and we will respond to you.
Or if you want to learn more about the bush have a look at the career courses we offer, or if you want to teach those that aspire to become guides have a look at what jobs are available with EcoTraining.