Last May I wrote a post about poachers murdering elephants to obtain their tusks for the purpose of selling the ivory to traders. Though the illegal trade has slowed slightly, elephant poaching remains a serious problem, especially in areas of central and west Africa. But just today, another, similarly heinous event has come to my attention: the poaching of rhinoceroses. Just as the elephants are being killed for their tusks, the rhinos are being killed for their horns, which are then sold to illegal markets mainly in Vietnam and China. It is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine but more and more commonly now it is used as a status symbol to display someone’s success and wealth. A status symbol. A living, breathing, majestic creature dies so somebody can have his horn to display as a symbol of wealth. Think about this one for just a minute, folks.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), it is estimated that 1,100 rhinos were killed in 2016 in South Africa alone, and over 129 have already been killed this year. Today very few rhinos survive outside national parks and reserves. Two species of rhino in Asia—Javan and Sumatran—are Critically Endangered. A subspecies of the Javan rhino was declared extinct in Vietnam in 2011. A small population of the Javan rhino still clings for survival on the Indonesian island of Java.
According to an article in The Washington Post, “experts say, that any living rhino — anywhere in the world — is now at risk of being killed.” Anywhere in the world, even in zoos and sanctuaries, it would seem.
On Tuesday, Vince, a 4-year-old male white rhino, was slaughtered inside his enclosure at the Thoiry Zoological Park west of Paris, France. Vince was born at a zoo in the Netherlands in 2012, but had resided at Thoiry since March 2015. The murderers broke through a series of metal doors to gain access to the area, then shot Vince three times in the head. They then used a chainsaw to remove one of his horns, and apparently began working on removing the second horn, but did not finish. It is unclear whether they were interrupted or the chainsaw broke or ran out of gas, but either way, Vince is dead. And for what? So somebody, somewhere, can hang his horn on the wall above their fireplace as a status symbol. 😥
But there’s even more. Last month, at Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage in South Africa, two baby rhinos, who had already lost their parents to poachers, were murdered. Two armed men stormed into the orphanage, held the staff hostage, ripped out the security cameras and shot two 18-month-old white rhinos, Impy and Gugu. Gugu immediately died after being shot, but Impy did not die immediately, yet the poachers continued to remove his horns. He was later euthanized by zoo staff. Although the story of Impy and Gugu was reported in several mainstream media outlets, I found this story in the Dodo to be the most informative and touching, even recounting how they came to be at Thula Thula. I hope you will take a minute to read it … it is a story that brings these two rhino-babies to life … it is their legacy. There is also a Facebook page written by staff members that tells the story from a personal viewpoint.
On 23 February, it was reported in the SA People News that two men were arrested for this atrocity. Apparently, they are known rhino poachers from a “notorious gang” which operates in Mpumalanga and the Kruger National Park, also in South Africa. However, it turned out the men were guilty of a different rhino attack nearby on the same night, so they were released from jail. WHAT?
Vince, Impy and Gugu are but three of the thousands of rhinos that have been killed since rhino horn became popular within the last decade, but their stories are important for two reasons. First, reading their stories, putting a name to the victims of these horrid crimes, seeing their pictures, makes it more personal, helps us to realize what a true crime this really is, more than simply reading statistics about poaching. Second, and most disturbingly, these two stories suggest a new and alarming trend, one where even animals being protected from poachers in the wild, are not safe. It suggests a certain desperation or else laziness on the part of the evil men who would murder an animal for money. Are these two instances isolated, or are they merely the beginning? Will other poachers soon decide that it is much easier to murder and de-horn a rhino in a small, protected area than to have to scout hundreds or even thousands of acres in the wild? I hope I am wrong, but more and more, the human race amazes me, and not necessarily in a positive way.