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9 Reasons Why Rhinos Matter

In southern Africa some years ago I was invited on a hunt. I was a journalist and lover of wildlife and this was something I absolutely did not want to do. But it was important to understand the rhino story and eventually tell it.

So I went.

A group of smug armed men walked into the bush and shot a rhino. They had paid for the privilege, it was legal, and it broke my heart.

They then proceeded to skin and dismember it, throwing blood and meat around, as happy as kids in a wading pool.

I’ve never forgotten.

I’ve never forgotten the blood and the gore, but mostly I’ve never forgotten the look of lust in their eyes as they waved their long erect rifles around, wet with the power of life and death over that once majestic creature.

They tried to make me turn away but I sustained their gaze and kept writing, taking photos (now long-lost) and refused to be cowed by beings I felt at that moment were scum. There was no nobility in this death, no purpose. It was unnecessary. It was ‘just for fun’.

Fast-forward to now and I’m a position to do something about that long-ago incident: I’ve joined a campaign called #JustOneRhino to help translocate 100 endangered rhinos from South Africa, where their lives are threatened by poaching, to Botswana, where they will be set free (Botswana has the lowest poaching rate in Africa).

To help this campaign succeed, I need your help. You can donate here, and win up to US$30,000 worth of unbelievable prizes – all for doing something that feels good, is necessary, and is right.

Because rhinos matter.

anti-rhino poaching campaign: rhino and African sunset

A rhino grazes at sunset: beautiful, but also environmentally vital. Photo by Beverly Joubert

And here’s why rhinos matter.

  1. Rhinos are in critical danger of extinction. In South Africa, more than 1000 rhinos were killed in 2014 – South Africa is home to 80% of Africa’s rhinos. According to the World Conservation Union (IUCN) three of the five rhino species are now endangered.
  2. Rhinos are environmentally crucial; they are what is called an ‘umbrella’ species. If they disappear, certain plant communities may be altered, threatening additional species (there exists scientific evidence for this). A rhino extinction would have an immeasurable environmental impact.
  3. If illegal killing continues at the present rate, rhinos may be extinct in 5-10 years, experts warn.
  4. Rhinos provide tourism: people pay to see these majestic animals, one of the ‘Big Five’ (only elephants are larger). It’s an industry worth US$80 billion a year in southern and eastern Africa, and much of it is spent by people who come to see wildlife. If the rhinos disappear, visitors will disappear with them.
  5. Rhino extinction will contribute to the poverty that is so endemic to the region. If income from tourism drops, pressure to kill bushmeat for food and money will increase, decimating other forms of wildlife and destroying the wildlife architecture from the top down.
  6. Rhinos are a ‘charismatic mega-herbivore’ and fundraising for something as large and majestic as the rhino is easier than for, say, an endangered reptile. By protecting the rhino, we engage in environmental conservation more generally, contributing not only to the rhino’s survival but to that of other species as well. In the process, we help raise awareness, which in turn contributes to conservation.
  7. There is no ‘need’ to kill rhinos. Some wildlife species are ‘culled’ because of overpopulation (that is sad but it is a fact). Rhinos are rare and in need of protection.
  8. It’s also about us. Killing for killing’s sake makes no sense. Rhinos have been around for millennia. Do we want to be the generation known for their destruction?
  9. We’re the ones who have made their survival so precarious. We have been killing rhinos for their valuable horn, we have been logging and polluting their range, and we have been waging wars that harm their habitat. Having driven rhinos to the brink of extinction, should we not be doing something to bring them back?
Photo courtesy Susan Portnoy - The Insatiable Traveler

Photo courtesy Susan Portnoy – The Insatiable Traveler

Why are rhinos so endangered?

Rhino populations in Africa have been in freefall. Three times more rhinos were killed in South Africa last year than in 2010. One subspecies, the West African black rhinoceros, was declared extinct in 2011. This killing spree is unsustainable and could eliminate all African rhinos in just a few years if nothing is done.

The reason for this dramatic increase in poaching is simple: rhino horn is a profitable business venture, with low-ish risk and extremely lucrative. A single horn can fetch upwards of US$60,000 (prices as high as $300,000 a horn have been whispered). These days many poachers are armed by organized criminal gangs, making it difficult for ill-equipped anti-poaching patrols to fight them off.  Couple that with the unrelenting poverty that places so many millions of Africans at below subsistence level and the pull of relatively easy money can be too powerful to resist.

Traditionally demand for rhino horn has come from Yemen, where horn is used to make dagger, or jamai handles. Rhino horn has been outlawed there but is still used. By far the greater culprit, however, is Chinese traditional medicine, which has been using rhino horn powder as a so-called detoxifier for centuries. In Vietnam, it is believed to cure hangovers (drinking less might be an option) and more recent rumors have endowed it with cancer curing capabilities. This has prompted a run on the rare cartilage. In some quarters rhino horn is seen as a status symbol, its use for ‘general wellbeing’ a sign of wealth or celebrity.

jambia knife from Yemen

The handle of the jambia – the Yemeni traditional dagger – is traditionally made from rhino horn. Import was banned in the 1980s but tradition occasionally persists, especially as a rite of passage: it is a sign of reaching manhood. Charles Roffey via Flickr cc

Yet there is no scientific basis to these medicinal claims. Two tests – one by pharmaceutical giant Hoffman-Laroche in 1983 and another by the University of London 25 years later – concluded rhino horn had no medical properties. A more recent study at the University of Hong Kong confirmed these findings.

Dr. Raj Amin, senior wildlife biologist at the Zoological Society of London, put it this way: “Does consuming rhino horn have any health benefits? No! You might as well chew your own fingernails.”

Myth still plays a large part in the rhino trade, as does the unscrupulous spreading of false hope by criminals bent on making money at any cost. The result? Senseless killings.


The #JustOneRhino campaign will support Rhinos Without Borders, a charity founded by the award-winning African wildlife advocates and National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence, Dereck and Beverly Joubert, to translocate 100 rhinos to Botswana.

The campaign brings together more than 120 travel bloggers with Travelers Building ChangeGreat Plains Foundation and  GreenTravelMedia to raise US$45,000 to translocate #JustOneRhino. My hope in writing about this is to help bring the Jouberts and Rhinos Without Borders closer to their goal.

Donate Here!4

Fantastic Prizes You Can Win by Helping #JustOneRhino

It’s great to donate – and even better when you can win one of these fantastic prizes. (The giveaway ends on 1 March so please hurry.)

This is just a sampling of more than US$30,000 in prizes donated by sponsors:

Many more prizes including luggage, dinner cruises, tours, hotel stays, memberships and camera equipment will be awarded.

So please, join me and my travel blogging friends in this campaign. You’ll be helping save #JustOneRhino from extinction.

And showing the world why rhinos matter.


JustOneRhino Sponsor Graphic2


{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Annette January 27, 2015, 11:44 am

    Hi Leyla, I signed up to your blog today and I am captivated, I actually want to click on every link. Some great stuff you have got.
    So I have come across this post and it speaks from my heart. I live in Namibia, and just yesterday it was officially confirmed that 24 rhinos were poached in Namibia during 2014.
    This made me think that probably a lot of people in the world don’t know the dangers the rhino faces (i.e. extinction!).
    I started end of last year something fun, sending my soft toy rhino Stompie around the world to create awareness and combining it with travelling. It’s a fresh project but hopefully he can raise some awareness.

    I just love these gentle giants – “Unicorns ARE real, they are just fat and grey and we call them rhinos.”

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak January 27, 2015, 9:10 pm

      I LOVE Stompie! He is adorable and I shall share him on social media. I hope you’ve joined the campaign – the prizes are terrific and as you well know, every little bit helps. I think all I can say is… Long Live Stompie!

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