A close encounter
Today, delegates from 178 countries are meeting in Bangkok to review the convention on the international trade in endangered species (CITES). The CITES agreement was signed in Washington in March 1973 in an attempt to regulate the trade trade in wild flora and fauna and to protect and conserve endangered species.
If one animal exemplifies the impact that illicit trade can have on a species then it is the black rhinoceros Diceros bicornis. Rhinos are killed for their horns which are then smuggled to the Middle East, where they are fashioned into handles for traditional daggers or Jambiyas, and to the the Far East where they are used largely in traditional, but useless, medicines.
Throughout most of the 20th century, the Black Rhino was the most numerous of the world's rhino species which at one stage could have numbered around 850,000. Relentless hunting of the species and clearances of land for settlement and agriculture reduced numbers and by 1960 only an estimated 100,000 remained. Between 1960 and 1995, large-scale poaching caused a further dramatic collapse in numbers to around 2000. Last year 668 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa, the last stronghold of the black rhino, and more than 100 have been killed so far this year. What a sorry mess we are making of our world!
The black rhino is notorious for its bad temper and tendency to charge. The photograph records a personal and uncomfortably close encounter some 10 years ago.