Now here's the follow-up piece I was trying to post two weeks ago:
|My White Christmas Rhino - Photo by Aron Frankental|
It’s in the high nineties. Not much chance of a white Christmas unless it’s a white rhino. And white rhinos aren’t white anyway. The common name is a corruption of the Dutch word wijd which means wide, and the name comes from the wide mouth as opposed to the more pointy mouth of the so-called black rhino, which isn’t really black. Let’s move on before this gets too confusing.
The point is that there haven’t been any black rhinos here for quite a while. They used to occur in this area and the habitat is ideal for them. That’s the case for much of the so-called lowveld (low-lying bush country) of the north-east of South Africa.
|Black or Hook-lipped Rhino|
The threat to the survival of the African rhinos is nothing new. In the sixties, when I lived in Kenya, the population of black rhinos was around 100,000. They were fun to see in the bush, but nothing special. Thirty years later the population had dropped to just 2,500, but now the numbers have doubled. So things looked up but the numbers were still very low.
|Rolling hills of Zululand|
The white rhino story was even more dramatic. The population crashed to only 50 a century ago and the species was hanging onto survival in the wild in only a few isolated spots. A group of twenty were in (what was then) Natal on the eastern side of South Africa, and two areas - Hluhluwe and Umfolozi -became the first proclaimed game reserves in Africa in an attempt to save the species. A few other spots did the same but with less success. I remember seeing one of the last of the northern race in Uganda in the early sixties. The race now exists only in captivity. But thanks to the efforts at Umfolozi, the southern white rhino did amazingly well – the population has climbed to around 20,000. Umfolozi now has nearly 2,000 - the carrying capacity of the area - and has resettled thousands across southern Africa. You see them quite frequently in the Kruger National Park now and all of that is due to the commitment of the people at Umfolozi.
|White or Square-lipped Rhino at Umfolozi|
Conservation officials now believe that the poaching of rhinos for their horns has reached the “tipping point”. That is the point in population dynamics at which the death rate exceeds the birth rate and the species starts to decline in numbers. If the poaching continues at the same pace, you don’t have to be a mathematician to see that the species is on the way to extinction.
So what I want for Christmas is a sighting of healthy, free rhinos. That makes it a white Christmas for me. And then I want to be able to see them again next Christmas.
Michael - Thursday
PS. At least I got the first part of my wish - see the first picture.