The ‘Big Five’ of African game animals – lion, cape buffalo, leopard, elephant and rhinoceros – is what every safari-goer wants to see. Yet the term’s origins lie in hunting (the five were the most desirable trophies), and one member of the group remains particularly vulnerable thanks to demand for its prized horn.
Five species of rhino exist, and each one is on the IUCN Red List of threatened species – of Africa’s two species, the white rhino is near threatened and the black rhino is critically endangered. Black rhino numbers fell below 2,500 in the mid 1990s, and though that figure has doubled thanks to conservation efforts, the species remains under threat from poaching, habitat loss and demand for rhino horn (which can sell for upwards of £80,000 per kilo) in traditional Chinese medicine.
Black rhinos in South Africa alone are being killed at such a rate that deaths could overtake births in the species by 2016, though anti-poaching measures – both in Africa and in the biggest black markets for illegal rhino horns – and increasingly severe penalties for poachers offer hope.
It’s also possible to contribute to the conservation of these remarkable, primitive-looking animals as a visitor to their native habitat. Some reserves, including Phinda [see panel, right] in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, even allow tourists to join park rangers in the vital and difficult task of darting, tagging and marking rhinos. If these species are to survive, the input of responsible tourists could be crucial.
Located in the north of the KwaZulu-Natal province, Phinda Private Game Reserve offers a unique opportunity to see a thriving population of black rhinos in their natural habitat, while contributing to the future survival of the species. Guests can join rangers as they tag the animals with GPS trackers, enabling them to monitor the movements and behaviour of the reserve’s rhinos. Phinda’s lodges provide easy access to other game and wildlife, including cheetahs, birds and the Big Five, with world-class amenities and incredible views. For more information, go to virginholidays.co.uk and to book, phone 0844 557 4321.