Good news about rhinos

Rhino cow and baby, Madikwe Game Lodge, North West province. Photo courtesy of South African Tourism
Rhino cow and baby, Madikwe Game Lodge, North West province. Photo courtesy of South African Tourism.

Good news for southern Africa’s rhino population! After almost a decade in which poaching has skyrocketed, South Africa and northwest Namibia saw a decrease in the killing of these animals.

Since 2007, poaching of rhinos has risen drastically in response to an international demand for their horns. Some people mistakenly believe the horns have medicinal value.

Edna Molewa, South Africa’s Environmental Affairs Minister, told the BBC the drop in her country was due to better anti-poaching technology and tighter border controls. In 2015, the country arrested 317 poachers, versus 258 in 2014.

Save the Rhino Trust attributes the drop in northwest Namibia  to increased patrolling of the rhino’s range, made possible by fly camps funded by Conservation Travel Foundation (formerly Tou Trust) and TOSCO (Tourism Supporting Conservation), groups supported by Ujuzi’s partners in Namibia.

Interested in getting involved? Guests at Desert Rhino Camp in Damaraland, Namibia, can participate in conservation in action by tracking desert-adapted rhino with Save the Rhino Trust.

Contact Ujuzi to learn more about visiting South Africa or Namibia.

Safari Tourism: More Crucial for Conservation Than Ever

Photo taken by Jennifer Johnson on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.
Photo taken by Jennifer Johnson on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.

Earlier this summer, Chris Costa of National Geographic Traveler wrote a blog post calling on his readers to go on safari.

Tourism to Africa dropped as much as 70 percent in the wake of the Ebola crisis last winter, even though popular safari destinations such as the Serengeti are thousands of miles away from affected areas.

With fewer tourists and less money coming into local communities, poachers have more opportunities to kill endangered animals and sell their body parts on the international black market. Pangolin scales, elephant ivory and rhino horn are all in high demand. As a result of this illegal trade, subspecies like the northern white rhino are on the brink of extinction.

Costa quoted safari guide Mark Thornton as saying, “One of the few things standing in the way of the possible extinction of endangered [animals] is tourists who pay to see these majestic creatures in the wild.” This is because tourism brings jobs and income to local communities, providing alternatives to destructive poaching. Park entry fees fund conservation and anti-poaching programs.

Read moreSafari Tourism: More Crucial for Conservation Than Ever

Eco-Tourism Helps Prevent Poaching

Ellen Wilson took this amazing photo of a young gorilla while traveling with Ujuzi in Rwanda.
Ellen Wilson took this amazing photo of a young gorilla while traveling with Ujuzi in Rwanda. Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village is helping to preserve the mountain gorillas’ rainforest ecosystem by creating income so that residents don’t need to poach for food.

CNN recently ran a fascinating story about Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village, a site where many of Ujuzi’s travelers to Rwanda have learned about local arts and ways of life. Visitors can learn to grind sorghum or millet by hand, start a fire without matches, or shoot a bow and arrow. Tasting banana beer and other local foods, watching traditional dances, seeing artisans at work, and talking to village elders are unique experiences that open our eyes to a different way of life – and the commonalities that tie all humans together.

It all started when Edwin Sabuhoro was a warden in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. He had the opportunity to talk with some individuals who had been jailed for kidnapping a baby gorilla to sell to a private buyer. He heard stories of desperate poverty and hunger, and came to realize that poaching would not stop until these issues were addressed.

He provided farm land and seeds to former poachers so they could raise their own food and sell it at market. “I left them with that and they started farming, and when I came back six months after I found they had harvested enough – they had enough food at home, but they were [also] selling more in the markets,” Sabuhoro told CNN. They no longer needed to turn to poaching for income.

Looking for other ways to generate income for communities near Volcanoes National Park, Sabuhoro worked with locals to create a Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village. The village has brought in enough income so families no longer  need to turn to poaching to survive.

Visit the link below to view an interview with Sabuhoro.

Saving rhinos one surgery at a time

A white rhino grazes at Lake Nakuru National Park. Photo taken by Kathy Overman on an Ujuzi Safari to Kenya.
A white rhino grazes at Lake Nakuru National Park. Photo taken by Kathy Overman on an Ujuzi Safari to Kenya.

Poaching the Creature That’s More Valuable Than Gold is a fascinating look by the BBC into the worlds of people who poach rhinos and people who protect them. Rhino poaching has increased dramatically over the past few years as demand for their horns escalates.

Rhino horn is used as a medicine in parts of Asia, where people credit it with treating everything from male impotence to cancer. None of the claims are true. Rhino horn is simply keratin, the same substance that makes up human fingernails.

Rhinos have gone extinct in parts of their range, and poaching has risen nearly 100-fold over the past decade in South Africa.

The article provides a rare look into the many aspects that contribute to poaching, including poverty and political corruption. It also profiles people risking their lives to save rhinos, and veterinarians providing care to rhinos who have survived poaching attacks.

It notes a new trend in poaching, where some poachers tranquilize rhinos rather than kill them before removing their horns. Unfortunately, these poachers don’t have veterinary experience and often end up severely injuring the rhinos.

Scroll to the bottom of the article for a (non-graphic) video of veterinarians doing facial surgery on one such rhino.

Dogs help fight poaching

It is often difficult to catch elephant and rhino poachers unless they were caught in the act of killing. Training dogs to track poachers and even come to the defense of animals is helping to change that.

“Our dogs have tracked elephant poachers for up to eight hours at a time or more, through extreme conditions—heat, rain, wetlands, mountains—and still turned up results,” Damien Bell, director of the  conservation group Big Life Tanzania, told National Geographic.

The National Geographic article also features a fascinating short video about the ways dogs, drones and other interventions are helping to protect rhinos in Kenya.

You can support anti-poaching dog training programs through Big Life Tanzania and Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

Can bioengineered rhino horns save the species?

rhino in Ngorongoro Conservation Area
A black rhinoceros browses in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Photo taken on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.


A San Francisco biochemist thinks he might have the solution to the rhino poaching problem: make rhino horns out of stem cells.

M.R. O’Connor reported in The Atlantic that the cells would be grown into horn shapes in the laboratory, then sold for use in traditional Chinese medicine, which is driving the current black market for rhinoceros horns. The horns would be biologically identical to real rhino horns, but wouldn’t involve injury or death.

Despite efforts to educate people about the plight of rhinos and the fact that rhino horn has no real medicinal value, demand for the horns remains high. It takes time to change minds – and time is something that rhinos don’t have. With only five remaining northern white rhinos, that subspecies is almost extinct. Conservationists estimate that southern white rhinos could be extinct in 23 years if current poaching trends continue.

Ceratotech, the company that filed a patent for the horn-growing process, hopes that flooding the market with biosynthetic horns will reduce the demand for horns from slaughtered rhinos. But there’s the risk that they could make it easier for poachers to sneak unethically sourced horns onto the market without getting caught.

96 Elephants

Ninety-six — that’s the number of African elephants killed every day for their ivory. And the United States is the world’s second biggest market for the illegal ivory trade.

Want to help do something about it? Zoos, businesses, and individuals have joined with the Wildlife Conservation Society to make a difference through the 96 Elephants coalition. WCS has anti-poaching teams at important elephant habitats throughout Africa, and is working with governments and customs officials to help them stamp out the ivory trade—for example, training dogs to sniff out ivory at key transit points along smuggling routes.

You can join in the fight by going to the 96 Elephants website. The website offers a number of steps that individuals can take to help stop the ivory trade, and offers lots of ways to share information about the poaching crisis with your friends.

Kenya toughens poaching penalties

Poaching laws in Kenya have become more strict, with real teeth added to the penalties for killing protected species or exporting their products. Only a year ago, the courts were limited in the penalties they could hand out – in one case, a group of Chinese nationals were fined just $340 each for trying to smuggle out $20,000 worth of ivory.  But after a new law passed, a judge was able to fine a smuggler $230,000 or 7 years in jail for trying to sneak a piece of elephant tusk out of the country in his suitcase.

You can learn more about the anti-smuggling efforts of Kenya and other nations in these articles from The Gaurdian:

African countries fight rhino poaching

Rhino, Lake Nakuru, Kenya

A white rhino grazes on the shore of Lake Nakuru, Kenya. Photo by Ryan Harvey.

Ujuzi will expand its tour offerings in the second half of 2014 to include South Africa, a country rich in unique wildlife and home to almost half of the continent’s rhinos. Unfortunately, the abundance of wildlife has attracted the attention of international crime syndicates, who profit from selling rare animal parts on the black market. I recently ran across this sobering article about an increase in rhino poaching in the country.

Poachers kill rhinos for their horns, which are worth more than their weight in gold in Southeast Asia. Rhino horn is a traditional medicine in that part of the world, where it’s thought to cure a variety of ailments despite modern science showing its ineffectiveness. Rhino horns have also been used to make cups, dagger handles and other ornamental items, but this use is less common now.

If poaching continues increasing at current rates, South Africa’s Environmental Affairs ministry estimates that the country’s wild rhino population could disappear by 2025. Other countries are also affected by poaching. In Kenya, the rhino population has dropped from tens of thousands to about 1,200.

However, many African countries are making a concerted effort to clamp down on poaching with improved training for wildlife rangers and by using drones and other new technologies to monitor national parks. On the demand side, Vietnamese government officials and wildlife organizations have committed to tougher enforcement of anti-poaching laws and educating consumers about the uselessness of rhino horns as medicine. China has recently increased penalties on those who import or sell poached rhino horns.

U.S. plans to destroy seized ivory to fight poaching

Courtesy of Kathy Terlizzi

Elephants are at risk of poachers who kill them for their ivory and sell it on the black market. Photo taken by Kathy Terlizzi on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to destroy six tons of poached and illegally imported ivory that it has seized over the years. The goal is to raise awareness of the illegal trade and to promote elephant and rhinoceros protection. Read more here.