Rhino Horns More Valuable than Gold and Cocaine, Combined
The high demand for rhino horns in other countries is fueling an alarming, high-poaching rate of three animals per day in Africa
Rhino poachers do not take much after killing the animal; the most valuable part, to them, is the horn. The current estimated value of a rhino horn is $19,000 … per ounce. (Photo courtesy of www.carterswar.com)
Africa’s rhinos are in trouble and Ivan Carter intends to expose the truth about a secret war currently being fought between conservationist and poachers.
Just 20,000 wild and captive southern white rhinos remain in Africa, down from an estimated 70,000 in 1970. Fewer than 5,000 black rhinos roam the continent and just four northern white rhinos remain in the world.
Habitat loss is playing a role, but nothing is taking a heavier toll than poaching. At any one time, says Carter, there are 10 to 12 poacher groups in Kruger National Park. They killed an estimated 250 rhinos in the park in 2011 alone.
Why are rhinos being poached? To help understand, Carter offered an interesting comparison with the illegal-drug market.
“Right now, today in China, a rhino horn sells for 100 times (or more than) what cocaine sells for on the streets in the U.S.,” Carter says. “It’s one the most expensive commodities on the planet.”
On the streets in some U.S. cities, cocaine sells for an estimated $180 per ounce. A rhino horn in China sells for an estimated $19,000 per ounce. And for those keeping up with the “legal” commodities market, that’s 17 to 19 times more than the price of gold per ounce.
Carter, a 45-year-old wildlife investigator, conservationist and professional hunter, has a new Outdoor Channel television show shedding light on the plight of Africa’s rhinos and other species in peril.
Called Carter’s W.A.R. (Wild Animal Response), the show highlights critical conservation issues on Carter’s home continent and focuses on the illegal trade of animal meat and parts, and areas of conflict, such as man-eating crocodiles and cattle-killing lions. The first show focuses on rhinos.
“I’ve had a very close relationship with rhinos since I was a kid. When I was 17, I tracked them for a team that would dehorn them so they would have less value to poachers,” Carter says. “We are at a critical state. There is a giant amount of brutality taking place. I want to do what I can. I want to be a mouthpiece and an informer. I want to show viewers what I’m seeing on the ground.”
It will take more than public awareness of the challenges facing rhinos and other African wildlife to make a difference. It will take money, lots of it.
“It doesn’t matter if one person donates $1 million, or a million people donate a dollar. It takes resources. It takes a lot of money to fight poaching. The people on the front line are very passionate about preserving wildlife. You can see it, the fire in their eyes. They aren’t doing it for the money, but it does take money to fight this,” Carter says.
An axe is one of the tools used by poachers to harvest certain parts, including the horn, from rhino carcasses. (Photo courtesy of www.carterswar.com)
Current anti-poaching efforts rely not just on foot patrols, but on helicopters and specially-trained operatives. New efforts include tracking dogs that can follow day-old scent right to the poachers themselves.
Catch dogs then actually latch on to the poachers and hold them until rangers arrive. That is, if the poachers don’t shoot the dogs first. To prevent that, helicopters, many of which are equipped with night-vision capabilities, follow dogs and their handlers.
The catch dogs, says Carter, will likely leave a physical scar that will serve as a reminder of the poachers’ deeds. More important, any poacher who has a run-in with a dog will relay his untimely experience to others.
“He’ll be telling his friends about what happened. That will (hopefully) discourage others (from illegally shooting a rhino).”
Carter admits anti-poaching efforts aren’t the only solution, although it’s a large part of it. He describes the necessary efforts as a three-legged stool. Efforts to stop the rhino-horn trade won’t succeed if any of the legs are missing.
“First, we have to educate the users of rhino horns that there is no benefit to the product. We also have to educate them on what is taking place in Africa,” Carter says. “The demand for rhino horn is leading to the potential extinction of these animals. We’ve already seen what’s happened to other species of rhinos. I don’t want to see African rhinos go the same way.
“It might take an entire generation to change attitudes, but if we hold on to the current population of rhinos for a generation, then we can save them. We also have to provide an alternative source of income and we must have vigorous enforcement of anti-poaching laws.”
There is some hope. Across Africa, the rate of poaching – currently averaging one rhino per eight hours – is dropping. Carter can’t say if that is a result of increased anti-poaching efforts or if it’s due to an overall decrease in rhino populations. Either way, it’s a good start.
Some local rhino populations have actually increased, if only slightly. What’s more, conviction rates of poachers have gone up and anti-poaching efforts are getting considerably more sophisticated and successful as the issue gets more publicity and funding. That’s why Carter is optimistic about the future.
“I’m a great believer in hope. I’m from Africa, so I have to be,” Carter adds. “There are enough passionate people on the front lines. We just need to get enough passion from the rest of the world to support them and we can really make a difference.”
For more information about “Carter’s W.A.R.” episodes and air times, please visit the show page.
For more information about the topics covered within each episode, please visit the “Carter’s W.A.R.” website.