The last rhinoceros cow in Krugersdorp park, South Africa, bled to death on Wednesday after poachers hacked off her horn. Photograph: Reuters
It goes something like this…you are fumbling with the dosage of tranquilizer you are trying to load into a dart, but know you don’t need to be careful. Err on the heavy side–tranquilizer is expensive, but soon you will have plenty of money, and better too much of the drug than too little. Waking up is not part of the plan, so there is no such thing as an overdose…or there is such a thing, it’s just not a worry of yours. More worrisome is getting this loaded and into the high powered rifle, in the dark with only your headlamp, and the helicopter banking, throwing you off balance. It is a short helicopter ride–you were just here this afternoon, spotting the animals grazing at a few remote clumps of grass in an open plain, just a few trees around and lots of scrub, but it is July, high winter, so most of the grasses have died back. Besides, the elephants have taken down so many of the tall trees it makes tracking much easier. The pilot signals you are nearing the area where you saw her earlier today, and the spotters who are helping you take only a few seconds more to find her now, almost exactly where she was. Her calf is only a couple of yards away from her side, and both are spooked now from the rotor blades in your copter. They try to run a bit, but of course their lumbering gate is like slow motion, and the baby can only go a few steps at a time. You take aim, and it is like shooting fish in a barrel. The dart lands clean in her side, just below the shoulder. You know it’s a good shot, so the pilot pulls back a bit and finds a spot to land a few hundred feet away. By the time the copter is down, so is the rhino. It takes less than seven minutes for her to fall into unconsciousness. It is not graceful. She stumbles against the lethal dose of drugs you’ve pumped into her, struggling to try and protect her calf. She is a beauty. You and the men who help are out of the aircraft, and as you approach the gray, panting heap, one watches your back for other animals and potential threats…and especially for headlights or other signs of game rangers or police…and the other pulls the ripcord to start the chainsaw rumbling to life. The copter blades haven’t even slowed–this won’t take long. She has fallen on her left side, her eyes still open. You take the growling saw and step in, bending down to take your quarry. Her horn is made of keratin, really just stiffened hair, so the chain blade cuts through it with no effort at all. You take it as close to her face as possible–the horn will fetch a great price sold to those who supply the demand for Chinese medicine–rhinoceros horn is in incredible demand for impotent men. You thought Viagra was going to gut the market, but no, rhino horn still pays handsomely. The horn falls into the dust and you flip off the saw, one of the helpers grabs the horn and drops it into a canvas bag where a stain of blood begins to spread, but not as quickly as the blood in the sand. Another wrenches the dart from the side of the immobile animal as her breath is slowing–darts cost too. You turn back to the chopper, surveying the night in the bush, making sure no authorities are headed your way, so you move quickly but not in a panic–you’ve had close calls before and are relieved tonight there is no threat. Not even a sign of the baby rhino…it must be hiding behind that brush heap, or have run into the dark. Back up in the air and you are headed toward the house where you’ll stay the night before heading to the airport in the morning, and you flip open your sattelite phone to call the client. “It’s done.”
It went something like that. The last female white rhino in a South African park was slaughtered by poachers last week, for her horn. Her horn was cut from her face by a chainsaw and she was left to bleed to death. Her orphaned baby was found the next day and transferred to a nearby estate where it joined two other orphaned rhino calves. It is only mid-July and 136 endangered rhinos have been killed this year by poachers, for their single horns. Horns that Chinese men (and other consumers of Chinese medicine) think will help them with a lack of virility. Maybe this horn is for a fancy knife handle in Yemen and won’t be powdered into “medicine.”
This last rhino cow was nine years old and a new mother.
The Guardian UK reports: “The committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (C.I.T.E.S.) warned last year that rhino poaching had reached an all-time high. The CITES conference in Geneva in July 2009 heard that Asia’s economic expansion had fueled the market in rhino horns. The horns are also used in the Middle East to make handles for ornamental daggers. Cites said demand for them had begun to soar in recent years. In the five years up to 2005, an average of only 36 rhinos had been killed each year.”
Whatever makes you passionate or pissed, take some action. Today.