This week on Helping Hand, local nonprofit Wild Aloha Foundation joins HPR All Things Considered Host Dave Lawrence to discuss their fundraising event September 6th at Amuse Wine Bar, Winos for Rhinos. They’ll raise awareness of the extinction crisis consumers in China and Vietnam are responsible for with their demand for rhino horn, which is causing widespread death, suffering and a full-blown extinction crisis, all over a lust for a substance that is meaningless to anyone but a rhino. They'll also raise funds for Care for Wild, the largest rhino orphanage in Africa, endorsed and visited by Prince Harry himself, where they care for orphaned babies whose mothers have been murdered, a secondary conservation crisis these same Asia Pacific consumers are also responsible for. Maile Miller is an attorney at Honolulu law firm Starn O'Toole Marcus & Fisher, and President and Co-Founder of Wild Aloha Foundation.
THE RHINO EXTINCTION CRISIS:
The several surviving species of rhinoceros have faced poaching threats for at least a thousand years. On a recent Helping Hand segment, expert Dr. John Payne of BORA, the Borneo Rhino Alliance, explained how Chinese demand for rhino horn wiped out huge numbers of Sumatran rhinos at least a thousand years ago, or earlier, with that populatoin down to perhaps thirty remaining wild animals today in Indonesia and Malaysia, making them among the rarest living creatures on earth, thanks to both the Chinese mass killing and habitat loss that has occured due to natural disasters and human development, especially palm oil plantations more recently. The Javan rhino has similarly been decimated to a similarly sized population, and is in a way even more rare, with none in captivity. But in more current times prior to 2008, there had been a period of relative stability in poaching numbers. It's not to say some rhino populations haven't faced horrific killing over the centuries in between that early Chinese onslaught against the Sumatran rhinos. Rampant hunting brought the southern whito rhino to the edge of extinction in Africa, drastically reduced the number of black rhino and all but snuffed out the northern white rhino, while the same happened to the greater one-horned rhino in India, brought to a handful of animals at one point by human killing. But with the southern whites and the greater one-horned rhinos, extraordinary conservation measures ressurrected the dwindling populations, only to see them under withering assault in the last decade.
Rhino horn has been valued in different parts of the world at different times; there was a demand for horn to be carved into dagger handles in the Middle East and other ornamental objects, while there have been trophy hunters the world over who sought to kill rhinos. But up to 2007, poaching numbers were low, with some records indicating 13 rhinos killed that year in South Africa, custodian to the largest number of rhinos in the world, both white and black rhinos. Unfortunately, a perfect storm of events appeared to radically push the killing to unsustainable levels, beginning in 2008: a rising middle class in China and Vietnam, possible rumors of people cured by using rhino horn, and an emerging trend of "banking on extinction", where consumers in China and Vietnam are trying to obtain as much rhino horn as possible, causing the animals extinction, and allowing for their stocked hordes of rhino horn to obtain much increased value. As wildlife NGO Traffic explained in a previous Helping Hand segment, consumers in these countries prefer to see a photo of the rhino that has been killed, often demand an ear from the animal as additional proof the item is genuine, and when buying a whole horn, want to see a piece of the rhino's scalp still attached to it. Even more sinister as Traffic explained on our airwaves, these consumers want to know the animal's horn was taken while it was still alive. This is the backdrop for what began in 2008, and what has evolved into an extremely violent war to protect rhinos.
This perfect storm has had a devastating, agonizing, and bloody result, one in which rhino horn consumption became linked almost exclusively to Chinese and Vietnamese consumers. This is when the current crisis began, with these consumers -- in China and Vietnam -- buying the rhino horn for everything from giving as gifts to bosses or business partners to gain favors, ingested as a powder to cure hangovers, used in a false belief it can cure illnesses, give men erections, assist in pregnancy, and many other uses no scientist is willing to back up as having any value. Maybe the most heartbreaking, and anger-inducing of reasons people are wiping rhinos off the Earth as fast as they can: banking on rhinos going extinct to boost the value of their stolen loot, as after all, all rhino horn is stolen from a living creature who has been murdered, often in a process that involves hacking off the face of a wounded or sedated animal, who then is left alive with unimaginable wounds and suffering pain that is beyond comprehension.
The statistics are sobering, and likely do not include all the animals killed, but the ones that were able to be located, as often they are tracked by sophisticated criminals in remote areas, and some rhinos carcasses are never recovered or counted. But with that in mind, from 13 South African rhinos poached in 2007, just one year later in 2008, it jumped to 83 rhinos killed there. Since then, South Africa's rhino population of 20,000 rhinos - by far the largest in the world - has become increasingly targeted. In 2009, 122 were killed. In 2010, 333 rhinos were killed. In 2011, 448 were slaughtered. In 2012, 668 rhinos were murdered. In 2013, it climbed to 1,004 individual rhinos killed for their horns. In 2014, there were 1215 rhinos killed, and since then the numbers have stabilized around 1000+ rhinos murdered yearly. In 2016, 1064 animals were killed. 1028 rhinos were reported poached last year. 2018 appears set to equal that level. Again, these are just the numbers from South Africa.
Conservationists note we are past the tipping point where the killing outnumbers the births, as noted investigator Julian Rademeyer explained in a 2016 interview. The rhino population cannot keep up with the killing, and the babies left grieving and often wounded next to their dead mothers have a diminished chance of survival without being airlifted to a sophisticated care center, like Care for Wild. The killings go on in other African countries, too, and wherever rhinos are found, even in zoos, murdered behind bars with nowhere to hide, like Vince the rhino, murdered in his enclosure in France last year. Some countries, like India, have pulled off a conservation success story. In Kaziranga National Park, officials have brought a handful of greater one-horned rhinos back to a few thousand today, and in India, they have done it with a smaller geographic area to cover, and a much smaller population to defend. One tactic that makes India different than other countries is a controversial shoot-to-kill policy, offering lethal force to anyone attempting to harm their rhinos in the park. Despite the regrettable loss of human life, in some cases people accidentally shot or gravely injured, India has kept poaching to a minimum, with their population steady at about 2400 animals. Recently India began upgrading the weaponry and technology available to the rangers at Kaziranga and there is talk of expanding these tactics to other regions where the rhinos reside. Nepal has also taken both the approach of utilizing their armed forces to defend their greater one-horned rhinos, and coupled it even more successfully with programs that draw the communities surounding the rhinos closer to the animals, seen as critical to preventing poaching and having everyday citizens benefit from the rhinos.
A secondary crisis has occured primarily in Africa, where the poaching is most fierce: the care of the babies left behind. Asia Pacific crime syndicates prey on the poorest people in the most impoverished areas of South Africa and Mozambique, among other rhino-bearing countries, hiring people desperate to feed their families to do much of the killing. Often, a baby rhino is witness to the carnage of it's mother being murdered. These infants usually try to defend their mothers, resulting in the poachers attacking and seriously wounding the baby rhinos. The animals are not only traumatized by the violence they've witnessed or sometimes been victim to; they are now denied critical care from their mothers, requiring hundreds of baby rhinos to receive care at orphanages where their survival is not guaranteed.
These rhinos require critical specialized milk they would normally get from their mothers every several hours, and round-the-clock attention to address their trauma. They are usually found in despair by their dead mother, unable to be consoled, requiring sedation, and helicopter transport to a care facility, which must be guarded with intense security, as even these sites are targets, since the poachers will kill a rhino for even a tiny stub of a horn, despite the tender young age of the victims, as was the case in a brutal assault last year on a rhino orphanage, where staff were raped and assaulted and baby rhinos -- barely with horns -- killed and left with critical injuries they would later die of, in front of their staff who'd been tied up.
Care for Wild, a South Africa nonprofit, and benefactor of Wild Aloha Foundation's Winos for Rhinos fundraiser, developed into the largest rhino orphange during this crisis. As noted above, they have been endorsed by Prince Harry. Harry and his brother William are strong rhino and wildlife advocates, and Prince Harry has personally visited the orphanage while Prince William has gone to Vietnam himself to plead the case for the rhinos. Care for Wild is the go-to destination for orphaned rhinos found in Kruger National Park, home to a large percentage of South Africa's rhinos. The staff and volunteers have created a care regimen that has rehabilitated numerous injured and traumatized orphans which are only released into 'rhino strongholds', extraordinarily secure tracts of land under intense surveillance and utlizing the most sophisticated electronic gear and highly trained military-style personnel helicopters and ground vehicles to monitor the area. Care for Wild also make their program work through volunteers from all over the world who pay to travel there to care for the rhinos, which has proven to be a key component, tapping into both people's passions and talents, drawing vets, doctors, law enforcement and others to support the rhinos. Their orphanage and sanctuary requires many levels of security, with heavily armed guards accompanying the rhinos around the clock, personnel on horseback, dog patrols, drones, lights and layers of fencing.
With the value of rhino horn exceeding diamonds, it has put these gentle giants - and their squeaking adorable offspring - into the position as among the world's most vulnerable animals, perhaps second only to the pangolin. It's hard to believe a little squeaking animal like this needs such security, to simply live, but these are the facts behind the fundraiser Winos for Rhinos, and who exactly the funds will be supporting.
Helping Hand is a weekly feature airing statewide on HPR1 stations each Friday as part of our afternoon drive broadcast of All Things Considered, and then appearing online at here, where all of our Helping Hand segments and resources are archived online. On Fridays, Helping Hand puts the spotlight on an organization, topic or event that offers assistance to people with disabilities, and others among the most vulnerable.
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