Founded in 1974, the Women’s Center was established to:
Dismantle, from a feminist perspective, all forms of oppression, including but not limited to those based on ability, age, class, ethnicity, gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Advocate for an equitable environment free from violence and harassment based on gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Create an anti-racist, non-sexist, queer-affirmative space where all people can feel valued and safe.
Facilitate and strengthen connections among people across lines of difference through programming and educational campaigns.
Integrate an appreciation of Women's Gender and Multicultural Studies across the disciplines.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Right Answer Isn't Always Clear

Today’s post will explore the realm of ecofeminism; this concept embraces the notion that humans are not the only beings of importance on this planet, and we do have some responsibility in caring for and maintaining the balance of our environment.  I’d like to focus this topic by delving into an issue that has been present for decades and exploded in frequency since 2008: rhinoceros poaching.

All five subspecies of rhinoceros have been placed on the endangered species list—their numbers have been declining faster than they can replenish.  This is largely due to poaching.  Poaching occurs all over the world, but in this case is most prevalent in South Africa, where the largest populations of rhinoceroses live today.  Since 2008, the number of rhinos killed by poachers has increased from about 80 to over 600 in 2012.  Thus far in 2013, the death toll has topped the numbers from the entire year of 2012.  The poaching epidemic is getting out of control.

Rhinoceroses are some of the most desirable kills for poachers because of their incredibly valuable horns.  The animal is killed, removed of its horn, and left on the plain.  The demand for these horns lies primarily in the Asian black market, where they are ground up and used in various homeopathic medicines.  However, contrary to the beliefs of traditional medicine in some areas, rhinoceros horns have no medicinal value.  They are made of keratin (like human hair and fingernails), which has been scientifically proven to lack any sort of healing value.

Even if they did promote healing and well-being, is the degree of poaching that has been reached in recent years justifiable?  Given that keratin has no medicinal value and any effect experienced is placebo, there really is no reason that poaching levels should be this high.

Unfortunately, the fact is, they are.  The monetary value of rhinoceros horns in some areas of Asia and around the world is enough motivation to encourage illegal poaching of these animals.  So if the law is not enough to discourage these acts, what can we do?  One of the new solutions is to remove the incentive altogether—literally.

Veterinarians are travelling across South Africa and tracking rhinoceroses; when they are found, they are sedated and have 90% of their horns removed.  The logic behind this is that the animal will most likely be able to live longer without its horn, since poachers no longer have a reason to kill them.  It seems inhumane, but given the options it may be the only reasonable solution.  A rhinoceros may live without a horn, or die without a horn.  Of course, there are numerous repercussions to the actions that have been taken.

The usefulness of a modern rhinos’ horn is unclear to us.  It certainly has a number of behavioral uses, such as intimidating territorial invaders and guiding young, but does that make it necessary to the animal’s daily functioning?  Can it get by without the horn itself?  Because the technique of horn removal is relatively new, we have yet to discover the implications it has on the ability of the rhino to survive.

It is also debatable just how successful horn removal has been in its original mission—to prevent poaching.  Out of the 33 rhinos killed from 2009-11 in Mpumalanga, South Africa, only one was a dehorned rhino.  This would imply that dehorning was relatively successful.  However, in more recent years, dehorned rhinoceroses have been poached for the nubs of horns that remain, as they are still highly valuable.  It also seems as if some may be killed out of spite for the new horn removal process.

In order for horn removal to be effective as a technique for rhinoceros protection, it must be paired with strict law enforcement and anti-poaching security.  It is not a strong enough deterrent on its own.
There is also the moral debate of what is to be done with the horns that have been safely removed.  Currently they are being kept in secure locations, but there have already been a number of instances of horn theft.  The moral dilemma arises when one questions whether or not the horns will be sold or profited from in any way.  If so, then the protective measures are ultimately perpetuating the need for poaching by encouraging the perception of horns as valuable (as medicine, art, or other goods).

It is an issue deeply wrought with difficult dilemmas and moral questions that do not necessarily have a correct answer.  I would say that it is clear that our rhinoceros population must be protected from extinction, but exactly how we would go about that is a matter up for extensive debate.  Untangling the web of actions and effects is no small task.

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