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Most of the world’s rhinos live in South Africa, but their numbers in that country decrease dramatically each year.
Poachers kill rhinos at a terrifying rate because the horns of the massive animals are ground into a powder believed by some cultures to have powerful medicinal properties capable of curing everything from arthritis and gout to sexual dysfunction. A large rhino horn might sell for as much as $1 million on the black market.
Albuquerque veterinarian Diana DeBlanc, a staunch advocate for rhino conservation, said that in 2017 there were 18,000 white rhino and 2,500 black rhino living at South Africa’s Kruger National Park, one of Africa’s largest game reserves. Last year that number was down to less than 4,000 white and black rhinos combined.
“Now they are estimating less than 1,000 combined,” DeBlanc said. “Aerial surveys (of Kruger) are seeing more carcasses than living animals.”
Saving rhinos from extinction must often seem like a losing battle, but people such as DeBlanc are unwilling to give up the fight.
“It is not our place as humans to think it is OK to eliminate a species from the Earth,” she said. “We can’t give up hope.”
Raising awareness of the rhinos’ plight is a major weapon in the arsenal of those who battle to save the creature.
That’s why DeBlanc is presenting a video/lecture titled “The Last Rhinos” in several cities in New Mexico. It’s part of the Southwest Environmental Education Cooperative endangered species lecture series.
The Albuquerque lecture is at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Guild Cinema, 3405 Central NE. Admission is free but donations are welcome. Any money raised will benefit the Council of Contributors, an organization devoted to funding efforts to protect and preserve rhinos.
DeBlanc, 51, a New Mexico native, is a large-animal veterinarian. Her practice, Performance Equine Veterinary Services, focuses on horses and mules. But since 2017, she has made three trips to South Africa to work with rhinos. Her most recent trip was a monthlong excursion this past October.
“It was a very special trip, really good,” she said. “We worked at the smaller game reserves such as Kragga Kamma, Balule, Insimbi, Makalali, Mankwe. Rhino numbers at these reserves range from six to hundreds. I realized that’s where the efforts need to be. These small reserves spend so much money on anti-poaching that they don’t have money in case something else happens, a rhino gets hurt.”
Desperate situations require desperate measures. A major effort made by people passionate about the protection of rhinos is dehorning, cutting off rhinos’ horns so poachers don’t have a reason to kill them. DeBlanc has done her share of that.
“Some of the bigger game parks have been leery of dehorning because the feeling was that the rhinos needed their horns to protect themselves against predators,” she said. “But now the feeling is rhinos are at much greater risk from poaching.”
Hope for future
DeBlanc’s lecture will include video and discussion of her experiences with rhinos in South Africa, but it will also delve into the prehistoric ancestors of rhinos, which lived many millions of years ago.
“Research has shown that (prehistoric) rhino were very common in (what is now) Florida, as far west as Nebraska and as far south as Panama,” DeBlanc said. “Some bones associated with rhino have been found in the Hillsboro (New Mexico) area.”
Those prehistoric rhino and other mammals became extinct due, probably, to a failure to adapt to a changing climate and new kinds of vegetation. But today’s rhino are being poached out of existence.
“The death rate is exceeding the birth rate by a hundred fold,” DeBlanc said. “But some rhinos orphaned by poachers are maturing, mating and reproducing. We have to be excited by every baby. Every baby rhino born is hope for the future.”