By Rupi Mangat
The Chinese penchant for the rhino horn is driving the illegal trade in this prehistoric animal up again. With their newfound wealth, the Chinese are on a spending spree buying the horn coveted for its perceived value, ranging from trinkets to medicine that can supposedly cure anything.
The tragedy is that the rhino is from an ancient lineage dating some 60 million years ago, far longer than that of the elephant. Yet today because of our greed, the rhino is on its last leg. In the past, its territory spread across much of Africa for the black rhino and white rhino. It was the same for the three Asian species — Javan, Sumatran and the Greater one-horned rhino.
Lucy Vigne has been studying the illegal trade in rhino horn since the 1980s with the late Dr Esmond Bradley Martin, who pioneered research in the business in the 1970s when he saw smuggled cargo leaving the then far-flung ancient port of Lamu. She continues with the research working towards her PhD.
She points to a map enlarged on a screen showing a few red dots against a sweeping swathe of green that was the range of the rhino historically. The red dots are spots on the globe where the rhino is today.
Vigne was an invited speaker for the Friends of Nairobi National Park monthly meeting held beside the national park that is a stronghold for the indigenous black rhino and the imported white from South Africa. The park is an important breeding sanctuary for this iconic animal.
“It’s history repeating itself,” says the petite rhino woman, referring to the rhino crisis in the 1970s fuelled by the Yemenis’ penchant for the traditional daggers topped with rhino horn handles after the oil boom in Saudi Arabia. Yemenis flocked to Saudi Arabia for jobs returning with dollars to buy the dagger with the rhino horn handle that was once the preserve of the rich. It’s only after the political unrest in Yemen and the economic crash that the trade went down.