Rhino conservation seems entirely superfluous – this animal looks quite indestructible. But populations plummeted to no more than a few hundred during the 1960s. That’s when a group of South Africans, including legendary conservationist Dr Ian Player, turned everything around. More recently, a fresh threat has arisen with poaching increasing exponentially.

Did you know?

The white rhino is makes a panting sound when communicating with its family group.

A generally peaceful beast, a rhino has something of a prehistoric, Jurassic Park look about.

Its springy gait belies its tank-like weight (an average of two tons). In fact, this is the second largest animal on land, and like most charismatic mega fauna, is found only in Africa.

In South Africa you find two species of rhino: black and white. About 4800 black rhino and 20 000 white rhino survive in the wild.

At first glance, rhino conservation seems entirely superfluous. They look quite indestructible. But sadly that's not the case.

The rhino population plummeted to no more than a few hundred during the 1960s, was rebuilt through the work of dedicated conservationists, and now faces a fresh onslaught as demand for rhino horn is on the increase in the Far East.

Rhinos are poached to obtain the horn, used for centuries as a fever-reducing ingredient and as an aphrodisiac in traditional Chinese medicine, and more recently in Vietnam, where its regarded as a cure for hangovers and cancer. In the Middle East it is also in demand for prestigious dagger handles.

In South Africa rhino conservation has taken dramatic twists and turns and great battles have been and continue to be fought to save these members of the Big Five.

Between 1958 and 1964, Dr Ian Player and a handful of men worked hard to relocate white rhinos from the Umfolozi Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal (a sanctuary for most of the population) to promote their conservation. Until then, no one knew how to transport rhinos. Dr Player asked a local doctor how much morphine it would take to drug a large animal like a hippo or rhino, and the medico snapped back irritably: ‘A bucketful man, a bucketful.

Although this strategy paid off at the time, fears are that a rapid increase in poaching today means the rhino is facing renewed risk of extinction.

In the Kruger National Park, a stronghold for white rhino, the South African National Defence Force and various other strategies are being employed in an effort to stem the tide of poaching. Conservationists are also working hard to change perceptions about consumption in markets where rhino horn is used.

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