OPINION: Contradictory Emergency Measures to Save Two of Africa’s Iconic Pachyderms—Why?

Rhinoceros in the Kruger Natural Park. Photograph by James P. Blair/National Geographic Creative.

By Katarzyna Nowak

It’s entirely possible, even likely, that we humans will not coexist very much longer with ancient, thick-skinned megafauna weighing thousands of pounds. How to save them is a matter of ever greater urgency—and dispute.

For African elephants—whose numbers may not exceed 400,000 and are falling yearly by some 30,000 to satisfy human lust for ornamental and religious ivory—there are stirrings of hope. National ivory stockpiles are being destroyed around the world to prevent leakage onto the black market (Ethiopia’s, yesterday), African nations are designing ivory action plans and their vaults of ivory await imminent inventory, state-level ivory bans are being enacted around the U.S., and on February 26 China suspended imports of ivory carvings for one year.

But for the other venerable giant of the Mother Continent—the rhino—the picture is dark. Africa-wide, an estimated 25,000 rhinos, black and white, are still standing. Their horn is in high demand in the East, mainly in Vietnam as a purported cure for cancer, fevers and hangovers. Last year, more than 1,200 rhinos were poached in South Africa alone.

Rhinoceros in the Kruger Natural Park. Photograph by James P. Blair/National Geographic Creative.

Against this grim backdrop, and without much fanfare, a public hearing will take place on March 25-26 outside Johannesburg. It will set the stage for the possible establishment by South Africa of a legal trade in rhino horn. Paradoxically, a better advertised conference about tackling the illegal wildlife trade will be convening in Kasane, Botswana at the same time preceded by an Elephant Summit.

With two of the planet’s iconic pachyderms under unprecedented threat, you might think that emergency measures for both species would be complementary. Yet emerging conservation strategies for elephants are protectionist, while for rhinos the trend is extractivist—a regional strategy toward farming rhinos and establishing —> Read More