Wildlife & Biodiversity

World Rhino Day: COVID-19 keeps rhino poaching in check

According to a new report by the International Rhino Foundation, the COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be beneficial for rhinos, especially in Africa

By Rajat Ghai
Published: Tuesday 22 September 2020

September 22 is World Rhino Day. On September 15, Texas-based charity, International Rhino Foundation released its 2020 State of the Rhino report in the run-up to September 22. The report presented an analysis of what this year has been like for the five extant species of rhino in the world.

In Africa, rhinos have had some rare good luck in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic. With borders, national parks and game reserves shutting down earlier this year and a large security presence in place, poaching gangs found it difficult to operate. Moreover, the trafficking routes to China and Vietnam, the main markets for rhino horns were also shut.

Of the two African species, the white rhino, whose name is an anglicisation of an Afrikaans word meaning ‘wide’ for the shape of its mouth, currently numbers 18,000, up from 3,512 in 1973 according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature African Rhino Specialist Group.

The smaller black rhino has declined from a high of 37,807 in 1973 to 5,630 now.

There is also good news for Asia’s third rhino, the Great One-Horned rhino found in India and Nepal. Its numbers are steadily rising in both countries. It numbers 3,600 currently in India.

According to the report, the white rhino saw and will see declines this year while the smaller black rhino has seen a modest increase in numbers. The report though warned that the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic could lead to an increase in rhino poaching in Africa, with local economies breaking down.

It also noted that anti-poaching operations in Africa had suffered since they were financed by tourism, which has declined due to COVID-19. At its peak in 2011, the price of rhino horn in Hanoi, Vietnam was more than double the price of gold — a staggering $80,000 per kilogram or Rs 58 million per kg.

The wholesale rhino horn prices declined by 50 per cent in China and Vietnam to $30,000-$35,000 per kilogram in 2015, from $65,000 per kilogram in 2012-14, according to a study led by Esmond Bradley Martin and Lucy Vigne.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a further crackdown on illegal trafficking of wildlife products. But the report has noted that the price of rhino horn, which has been declining since 2015, has not deterred poachers.

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