Armed rangers set off at dusk in pursuit of poachers. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a new danger, even to Africa’s endangered wildlife. With no tourists traveling to bring funds to the region, protecting black rhinos has become even more challenging. That’s because poachers—desperate to make a living—are becoming more daring.
Long before the coronavirus outbreak, poachers threatened rhinoceros populations. They kill the giant beasts to rob them of their horns for illegal sales. Some cultures mistakenly believe rhino horns have spiritual and medicinal value. People with those beliefs will pay big bucks for the shorn horns. They do not seem to know or care about the animals the horns are harvested from.
Managing animal populations is a challenge given to humankind from creation. It began with Adam naming the individual creatures. God’s great creativity and variety in filling His world with life was on display for Adam to see, understand, enjoy, and care for. After the Flood, God gave Noah and his family permission to use animals for food and clothing. But He never condoned misusing animals. Proverbs 12:10 illustrates one difference between righteousness and evil: “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.”
John Tekeles is a patrol guide and head of the dog unit at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. He says the financial losses Kenyans are feeling due to coronavirus restrictions have put him on guard. “We are more alert because maybe more poachers will use this time to come in to poach,” he says.
Effective law enforcement is helping. The number of black rhinos in Africa has been slowly increasing, even though the species remains critically endangered, says a report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
More than 130 black rhinos call Ol Pejeta home. That’s the single largest population in east and central Africa. But protecting them is expensive. Ol Pejeta spends about $10,000 per year per rhino on protection, conservancy director Richard Vigne says.
“That comes to close to $2 million a year,” he elaborates. “In the time of COVID, when tourism has completely stopped, where most of our revenue comes from tourism, . . . it’s a complete disaster. Our ability to look after the rhinos is compromised.”
Conservationists across Africa are now monitoring to see how poachers might try to take advantage, and whether even more rare wildlife will be targeted.