Sorry, yes indeed, this is a begging post. It is also massively off thread, in that it involves only a very minimal amount of cycling, so please feel free to retreat rapidly. In my defence, it is, at least, for a very good cause: a cause that is sizeable (in more ways than one), and characterised by a famously sunny disposition and the dimensions of a brick outhouse. It also has the ability to cover 100 meters in 8 seconds, which means that said outhouse can cover the distance between "what an amazing photograph" and "oh shit!" in roughly the time it takes to say it. Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce you to the Rhino, which is in rather radical need of saving.
The decline of the Rhino has been rapid, catastrophic and world wide. Of the five different species, the best placed is the White Rhino, of which there are approximately 20,000 left, and which is described as "near threatened". The White Rhino is actually a massive success story, since at one stage it was down to 50 individuals, so it shows that eradications can be reversed and species saved. I like to think of the White Rhino as the Jaime Lannister of its clan – it has lost its inheritance, is perpetually under threat, and is minus some key body parts, but it is at least alive. The Black Rhino, on the other hand – described as "solitary and shy", which makes me feel a certain kindred spirit – is the little brother headed rather regrettably in the other direction. Only five thousand or so Black Rhinos are alive today, down from well over 100,000 at the beginning of the century, and some of its subspecies have become officially extinct.
"Solitary and shy"
In Asia, the situation is if anything rather worse. The Sumatran Rhino – a species that is believed to be the oldest extant mammal – numbers perhaps a hundred individuals, or not enough for a good drinks party. As for the Javan Rhino, he is called Gerald, and is so rarely spotted that gamekeepers impute his existence from footprints and dung analysis – those of you who have teenage children will no doubt recognise the methodology.
Even the white wine is warm
Why are their numbers declining? As usual, the key contributor is man, partly through destruction of habitat but mostly through industrial scale poaching. Some (though not all) of the habitat destruction seems inevitable and a side effect of economic growth in emerging economies, though it would seem incumbent upon man to mitigate the effects rather more enthusiastically than most countries are currently doing. However, the bigger problem is poaching. Rhinos, as you know, have keratin growths decorating their heads – curiously, you have exactly the same material on yours. Yes, Rhinos are being killed for their nasal hair. Certain Asian nations have the belief – based on evidence that ranges from "none" to "none" - that powdered Rhino horn can cure a wide range of diseases, including cancer and the Common Hangover. Hence, the high value of Rhino horn and the relative scarcity of any actual Rhino (after all, what wouldn’t you do to get rid of that morning after feeling?) Actually, "being killed" doesn’t really get to the truth of what is happening. The poachers simply ensure that the Rhino is incapacitated sufficiently for them to be able to hack the horn off. Of course, the post-rhinoplasty (spot the irony) rhinos may not be in particularly good shape to continue their gentle herbivorous grazing. About which the poachers give precisely zero hoots.
This is, clearly, where Save the Rhino comes in. As with all conservation efforts, the challenge is considerable and varied. For the Rhino, it starts with security. The four remaining wild Northern White Rhinos, for example, require personal round the clock armed guards (which if they are as "shy and retiring" as their cousins presumably somewhat reduces the chance of any more of them coming into existence). However ardour-dampening, gamekeepers are vitally important, and the gamekeepers themselves require training, feeding, paying, and equipping (food, clothing, vehicles, fuel, dogs, dogbiscuits… the expense is endless). Sadly, they also require arming, because if poachers aren't deterred by targets that have the rough off-road performance of a Toyota Land Cruiser with no brakes, they sure as hell aren't going to stop for a polite "excuse me". Gamekeeping in Africa is most definitely not a job for the faint of heart.
Just protecting the remaining Rhino from the unwelcome attention of high velocity bullets is of course not nearly enough to ensure the survival of the species. Their habitat needs protection and conservation – which is a core part of the Save the Rhino mission. This is incidentally great news for other animals, as rhinos are what are colloquially known as "umbrella species" since if you stand underneath them they are big enough to keep the rain off your head. Also, by providing the conditions for Rhinos to thrive, you support the myriad other species that are similarly vulnerable to habitat erosion but are somewhat less photogenic, such as the Rhinoceros beetle and the Leopard Tortoise (the latter of which is either delightfully patterned or really, really fast). Africa actually has a large store of tautologically named small animals in need of protection, so do please save a Rhino if you appreciate such oddities as the Elephant Shrew and the Ant Lion (yes, that is really a thing).
In addition, Save the Rhino is intimately (I use the word advisedly) involved in captive breeding programmes such as the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary. Save the Rhino contributes much of the money to cover the costs of the Sanctuary, including staff salaries, veterinary supplies and food of various descriptions. The Sanctuary itself provides the location, the animals, and runs what is essentially a dating service for Rosa, Ratu, and the lucky young male Andalas. As the Sanctuary will tell you – with a commendably straight face – the Rhinos are being regularly introduced to each other and staff have high hopes for pregnancies in the next few years. As a father of two young daughters, I can't help but feel faintly disapproving.
But as with all conservation efforts, providing Rhinos with bodyguards, a roof over their head and a potential love life is only part of the story. No feasible rate of reproduction can match the brutal efficiency of the poachers. Save the Rhino therefore is also at the centre of attempts to reduce the demand for Rhino horn. Advocacy efforts are key – although trading Rhino horn is now illegal in much of Asia the legislation is still sadly rarely enforced. It is vital to continue efforts to persuade governments and consumers that Rhinos are both worthy of saving and relatively inefficient as Alka-Seltzer substitutes. As all good economists will agree, it is only when demand is tempered that supply will cease. There is much, much more work to be done in this space - for example, despite both legislation and agreements with South Africa, the number of Rhino Horns seized in Vietnam number precisely zero (Save the Rhino has counted, twice, just to make sure).
All the above costs money, which is as you will have expected (feared?) is the point of this post, in that I would love you to support my fundraising effort. What will I be doing to deserve your money? Well, in August I will ride the Prudential Ride100, which is the aptly named 100 mile bicycle ride through London and Surrey. "Isn’t cycling your hobby?" I hear you all chirping from the cheap seats. Well, yes, but as with all things, there is a fine line between enjoyment and excess, and in my case as many of you will be aware (thebongolian in particular) the fine line is about 60 miles, which puts this well to the wrong side of the ledger. I have ridden precisely one century (the last 30kms of which I simply refuse to remember) and I can tell you that by the end of it my back will be screaming, my shoulders will be aching, my legs will be in outright rebellion and my innards will be playing the Hallelujah chorus from all the gels. All of which, I admit, is nothing compared to the sufferings of a nasally challenged Rhino, but at least meets the 21st Century requirement for charitable fundraising to be at least uncomfortable and ideally humiliating to the person doing the raising. Suffice it to say, I know what state I was in last time, and it wasn't pretty...
So please, if you were feeling kindhearted and wished to save a rhino, follow this link, and feel free to contribute anything from £10 to your first born child. Similarly, if you simply would like to vicariously enjoy financing my suffering… well, I will take that too. Naturally do mention this site to other friends and relations (ideally ones that are insanely competitive with large disposable incomes).
Should you want to find out more, www.savetherhino.org will tell you more coherently and less verbosely about the challenges these beasts face and what can be done. The message is the same. These are incredible beasts, and they deserve our protection. If you feel like contributing, both I and Gerald the increasingly vanishing Javan Rhino would be delighted.