NOTE: This is a guest post by Craig R. Sholley, vice president for philanthropy and marketing at the African Wildlife Foundation.
The chronicles of rhino conservation consist of historic highs and devastating lows, and portray both the benevolent ingenuity and heartless brutality that humankind is capable of. The rhino population’s steady march away from the brink of extinction in the 1990s forcefully demonstrated that smart conservation can succeed… but deplorably, the species’ survival is again threatened by a flood of criminal activity that aims to cash in on an object worth more than gold: rhino horn.
2011 brought record rhino poaching, and to date, this year is even more alarming. So far in 2012, more than 227 rhinos have been poached in South Africa alone. To stop these despicable acts and curtail the illegal trafficking of rhino horn, the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and Kenya Wildlife Service convened an Emergency Rhino Summit this spring at our headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. Attendees came from all over Africa and included wildlife authorities from key rhino range states, scientists, owners of private reserves, trade and security experts, and leading international conservation organizations. These stakeholders formulated a comprehensive action plan, the first of its kind that targets not only poachers, but also the markets and demand that they supply.
The comprehensive action plan proposes four tiers of activity:
1) assisting rhino surveillance and anti-poaching units on the ground;
2) strengthening law enforcement and its coordination at both local and national levels;
3) curbing rhino horn demand through strong public awareness campaigns; and
4) influencing policy makers, financiers, and government officials to create high-level policy change.
Already AWF has taken leadership on curbing demand, where we’ve — through a recent partnership with WildAid –begun to implement a multimedia public awareness campaign in China, a major market for rhino horn. We are also going to increase ongoing support for rangers, rhino monitoring technology, rhino sanctuaries and more.
Like AWF, other Summit attendees have begun taking action on the four tiers, and the effects are starting to show. For example, the South African government has arrested more than 148 poachers since the beginning of the year. This is without a doubt a good sign, but successful and severe prosecution will be the true mark of success. As long as the poachers remain untiring in their pursuit of rhino horn, we must be vigilant and determined to stop them and in turn destroy an illegal market that is poised to generate the extinction of Earth’s iconic rhino species.