Born Free USA Blog
by Will Travers,
Chief Executive Officer
What can you say about a big-hearted bloke who has rescued dolphins, tigers, elephants and more and whose parents once helped a lion cub from a department store by caring for him in their backyard and engineering his rightful return to Africa? You can safely say that he's got great animal instincts! In 1984, Will Travers joined his parents — "Born Free" film stars Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers — to form what became The Born Free Foundation. With knowledge, passion and compassion dripping from his every word, Will's blogs are sure to make you embrace our crusade to Keep Wildlife in the Wild ®.
A week ago, the Justice Department announced that two men, and a company owned by one of those men, had pled guilty to several charges related to their participation in the smuggling of rhinoceros horns. Congratulations to the DOJ for its fine work in rounding up these culprits.
The fact that these criminals might spend years in prison and pay substantial fines for their murderous greed makes me think justice could be served.
But the case reminds me how the world’s largest herbivore, an iconic animal regarded in awe worldwide by children and adults for generations, may soon be extinct. No justice can be served for that.
Of the five extant species of rhinoceros, two are struggling and three are critically endangered. Perhaps worst off is the Sumatran rhinoceros, the hairiest of the five with a reddish brown appearance, a weight of some 1,500 pounds and habitat in the highest elevations of Borneo and Sumatra. They’ve been around for 15 million years, but due to poaching there are only 200 to 300 left.
The criminals involved in the most recent case, including two other men who earlier pled guilty to rhino horn trafficking, apparently were exploiting the white and black rhinoceroses species, both native to southern Africa. There are an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 black rhinos left in the wild, an astonishingly sharp decline from an estimated 70,000 in the late 1960s. White rhinos have two sub-species, the southern of which are doing well, comparatively, on national park lands in South Africa. The northern sub-species has about four left, all in captivity. Yes, four.
Humans are entirely to blame for these declines; rhinoceroses have no other predator. Rhino horns are used in traditional Chinese medicine and as trinkets for the growing consumer base in China. One of the men in the recent case said he paid $5,000 to $7,000 per pound for the horns, an indication of how much money is involved in this abominable trade.
The United States and the international community have established laws that protect rhinoceroses. Last week’s announcement indicates that enforcement of those laws is doing some good. If the consumer appetite for rhino horns is not addressed forcibly and very soon, however, whatever good is being done for rhinoceroses is going to prove to be too little, too late.