People en masse are super dumb. It’s a strange thing, groupthink–get enough people believing in something and even the most ridiculous story can become gospel truth. Nope, I’m not talking about religion. I’m talking about rhino horns. Stephanie Gilmore recently joined something called the Australian Rhino Project, an initiative that aims to move a whole bunch of rhinos from South Africa to Australia. They want to move them because if they don’t, it’s likely the rhinos will be shot, have their horns cut off, and left to bleed out in the grass while some asshole with a gun and a bloody machete carts away the equivalent of a giant fingernail with absolutely no medicinal properties. Once they get the rhinos to Australia, they’ll breed them, raise them, and if the time ever comes when people stop killing them because someone will buy a horn for a price higher than gold, ship them all home.
If you believe the weird old rumors (which you shouldn’t), rhino horns can give you rock hard, everlasting boners, cure cancer, and be a fantastic party drug. Because there’s a lot of ancient Chinese medicine that uses ground up rhino horns, the prevalent belief is that poachers send rhino horns to China. That’s not really the case, though. For a while it was, but in the early ’90s, the Chinese government decided to side with science over myth and began taking all rhino horn recipes from the traditional Chinese medicine books. That, along with a bunch of other measures, worked. By 2007, demand was way down, and as a result, so was poaching. Then, about a year later, poachers in Asia and Africa began killing with a new passion. The reason behind the passion? Vietnamese demand.
According to The Atlantic, from 1990 to 2007, 15 rhinos were poached each year in South Africa. The next year, the numbers skyrocketed. It started in 2008, when 83 were slaughtered. In 2009, that number rose to 122. By 2012, it was up to nearly 700. The Guardian reported a possible reason: in early 2008, rumors began circulating that a Vietnamese politician cured his cancer by snorting ground up rhino horn. Of course, the rumor isn’t substantiated–because it’s not true, one would assume–but all the same, people en masse were dumb, decided they needed rhino horns, and would pay a fortune for them.
The really awful thing about this is that rhinos have been teetering on the brink of extinction for a long time. Many species already have gone the way of the dodo (in the most literal sense), and it’s happened in an alarmingly short period of time. In 2010, the last Javan rhino was found dead in Vietnam, shot in the leg with its horn sawn off in Ujung Kulon National Park, where rangers were trying to protect it. And things aren’t getting any better, they’re getting worse. So much worse, in fact, that Scientific American called 2015 “the deadliest year ever for rhinos.”
In the early 1900s, Africa and Asia was home to somewhere between half a million and a million rhinos. Now, thanks to poachers and, by proxy, buyers, they’re pretty much gone. In 2008, the West African black rhino was declared extinct. There are only three Northern White rhinos left in the whole world, and they live in a zoo in Kenya. A fourth died last year in the San Diego Zoo. There are a few hundred floating around here and there, but not very many. Think about that: in under a hundred years, our lust for a myth has prompted the killing of almost a million rhinos.
Anyway, this was supposed to be a feel good story about Stephanie Gilmore and the Australian Rhino Project, but it turned into something else because there’s nothing feel good about what we’re doing to rhinos. In short, surfing’s favorite daughter is excited to be a part of the group, and went on a trip to South Africa with them. “Three rhinos are poached every single day in South Africa purely for their horns, unfortunately leading them on the path to extinction within the near future,” she wrote on Instagram. “Meeting these young orphaned rhinos, whose mothers were so cruelly taken from them at the hands of poachers, was incredibly moving and has inspired my proud support to establish an insurance population of Rhinos in Australia.”
If you want to learn more and show your support, you can have a look at AustralianRhinoProject.org.