There are currently five remaining species of rhino (White, Black, Greater, Sumatran & Javan), three are critically endangered (Black, Javan & Sumatran), one is vulnerable (Greater), one is near threatened (White). Three are located in Asia (Greater, Sumatran, Javan), the remaining two in Africa. Of those critically endangered, Javan rhinos (population ~60) are all located in one natural park and are at risk of natural disasters and disease. Sumatran rhinos (population ~100) are threatened by poaching and habitat loss from palm oil plantations. Whilst black rhinos (population ~5,000) have suffered a 97% population decline due to poaching between 1960s-Present.
Protecting and managing a rhino population is a real challenge that costs energy and money that countries affected can’t always afford. Legislation and regulations only work if monitoring is provided, meanwhile, rangers tasked with protecting rhinos are often times poorly armed and trained compared to the poachers they are up against. That being said, many non-governmental organizations, private donators and some government entities are actively trying their best to try and save rhino populations from following the fate of the Northern White rhinos – extinction.
But why should we care? For most people, the fate of rhinos doesn’t affect them directly. After all, these are creatures that many have never interacted with or are not part of their own ecosystem.
Rhinos are an umbrella species. When protecting and managing a rhino population, rangers and scientists take in account all the other species interacting with rhinos and those sharing the same habitat. Protecting their habitats ensures that we are protecting a large accompanying ecosystem, and rainforest/savannah have large amounts of biodiversity and support a substantial amount of wildlife.
Even then, it would be foolish to think poachers and others will stop with the rhino. If they become extinct, the poaching will not end, it will simply carry over to a “replacement” species – which raises the question: Where do we draw the line? If not rhinos, then where do we decide to intervene?
Conservation does works. Rhino populations have bounced back thanks to a range of conservation efforts in the past, so why not continue them? Donations from private individuals are one of the major driving forces of change and conservation. Raising awareness and contributing to the effort ensures that we are able to protect an important species and reduce human impacts. Like many environmental matters, the lessons learnt with rhino conservation can be transposed anywhere else on the conservation spectrum. The bottom line remains that action is needed to safeguard our environmental resources for future generations.