Rhino poaching can be a matter of life or death for both the animals and their poachers, South African wildlife manager LD Van Essen said in his discussion Monday night. The event was hosted by School of Public and Environmental Affairs’ abroad program.
“It’s a war out there,” Van Essen said.
For years, poachers in South Africa have been stealing rhino horns, often injuring or killing the animal itself. Poachers also run the risk of being caught and shot on sight.
Regardless of the risk, syndicates in the East believe the market for these horns will be getting larger. Already, a rhino horn runs about $70,000 per kilogram on the black market, Van Essen said.
As the rhinoceros population decreases, this price may increase drastically due to rarity. Approximately 1175 recorded rhino poaches were made in 2015, Van Essen said. He showed different pictures of South African during his presentation, including graphic photos of rhinos with severed horns.
“As far as seeing the graphics, they’re obviously heartbreaking to see, but that’s what opens these people’s eyes,” IU senior and event attendee Kaitlin Salinas said. “This is actually happening.”
Van Essen explained de-horning can be done in an ethical way. If all the rhinos have their horns cut, there are no problems between the animals.
“If you’ve done all of them, then there is no social disparity, and they carry on being rhinos,” Van Essen said.
Removing the horns from rhinos doesn’t have to be a painful process, Van Essen said. There are ways professionals can take off these creature’s horns without harming them. Poachers aren’t concerned about this, though, and will often take off a rhino’s horn entirely. Van Essen compared this to taking off a fingernail at the nail bed.
Rhino horns are known for their medicinal usage in the East and have been used for a couple hundred if not thousand years, Van Essen said. He also explained that using horn-related products is viewed as a sign of wealth due to the horn's high selling price. Van Essen compared taking away this lifestyle as taking away Thanksgiving in the United States.
“Who am I to tell somebody their culture is wrong?” Van Essen said.
SPEA Abroad offers a summer course trip to South Africa. The class is a three-credit case study in environmental management, focusing on wildlife, patching, over-commercialization and sustainability. Van Essen led the group in the past few years and will be taking the next group as well.
Salinas, a senior majoring in environmental management, attended the summer course this year.
“It was my first time going out of the country,” Salinas said. “It was definitely a huge culture shock as far as seeing the poverty firsthand and seeing the cruelty that happens to some of the animals.”
Salinas recently began the Rhino Poaching Awareness Society to spread the word about the rhino poaching to people around IU.
“I pretty much grew a strong passion about rhino poaching and wanted to spread awareness to people on campus,” Salinas said. “Because if people aren’t educated on it, they don’t know the issue is even occurring.”
A previous version of this story stated poachers believe rhino horn value will increase instead of stating that syndicates in the East believe rhino horn value will increase. It also said the price of a rhino horn costs $70,000 on the black market instead of $70,000 per kilogram and that rhino horns are used in South African culture instead of in Eastern culture. The IDS regrets these errors.