In the undulating savannah a few hours north of Nairobi, Kenya, three black rhinos look to a row of trees on the horizon of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, a 62,000-acre sanctuary that's home to 12 percent of the country's black rhino population. The treeline provides good foraging and, more importantly, a safe haven from the bullets of poachers eager to rest a horn.
Poachers are now a sophisticated lot. They are well-armed, well-trained, and highly motivated since the price of rhino horn is higher per ounce than gold.
While the black rhino can be an aggressive sort, occasionally up-turning the passing SUV, they are generally quiet, at peace, foraging, bathing, drinking and meandering.
But, prized in eastern countries for their unsubstantiated medicinal properties, only 3,000 black rhinos remain in the wild. Outside protected areas, a rhino sighting is an experience of the past. Poaching has taken so many rhino lives that their longevity as a species is questionable—their narrowed gene pools are barely holding up and the cost of survival rises daily.
Poachers are now a sophisticated lot. They are well-armed, well-trained, and highly motivated since the price of rhino horn is higher per ounce than gold. A relatively stationary creature, the rhino is highly vulnerable. If a poaching gang gets word on the whereabouts of a rhino, it is relatively easy to shoot one using night vision equipment under the blanket of darkness. And defense against the gangs for former ranchers turned conservationists is scary, expensive and largely ineffective in landscapes where land owners and local communities have had a natural conflict for generations.
Community-based conservation is a key. It is possible, as evident in the conservancies of Kenya’s Northern Rangelands Trust, including the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, to re-imbue local communities with the passion for wildlife, its protection and support.
Rural development in much of Africa is a challenge, and underfunded governments struggle to bring services to rural communities—still, the pastoralists who inhabit the north are the key to protecting wildlife. And at conservancies across northern Kenya, the bonds between wildlife and the people are being rebuilt as conservation brings tourism and tourism affords education, healthcare and improved agricultural effort.
Rhino’s are inherently sweet and funny creatures. A baby rhino on Lewa—Nicky—hand-raised because of his blindness, is a frolicking, fun-loving critter who is fond of his human keepers, affectionate towards nearby dogs and full of mischief! Nicky is a super-ambassador for the Black Rhino—highly-endangered and in the throws of a war for arms funded by sale of that rhino horn.
We can all help. Join campaigns to raise funds; write letters to local Vietnamese and Chinese consulates to ask for their help and cooperation; spread the word to your friends that rhino horn is not a helpful medicine for any health issues. And let everyone know that too many rhino are dying.
We will be launching two guerilla efforts to raise awareness at consulates across the U.S.—be a part of these with us—we’ll get you fake rhino horns to sport later in the year; we’ll launch a keratin collection campaign. Contribute to anti-poaching campaigns on Crowdrise, on Lewa.org and other rhino sites; write rhino songs; bowl for rhinos in your cities; and join our Facebook page and Twitter feed and tell us your stories.
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Ginger Thomson, an early Internet entrepreneur and conservationist, is the Executive Director of Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in the United States. With Lewa, she follows her passion for rhino and elephant and hopes she can work with others to keep them thriving in the wilds of Kenya and other African countries.