Leaving the iconic waves of Supertubes, they headed for the South African "Bushveld," where up to three rhino are poached every day. The animals are sought for their horns and other body parts believed to have medicinal properties and cultural value, particularly in Southeast Asian countries.
Home to 73 percent of the worldâ€™s rhino population, South Africa's rhinos are being decimated by poachers who are now being supplied by international criminal types with sophisticated equipment to track and kill rhinos.
The ASP team met with the Chipembere Rhino Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection and conservation of South Africaâ€™s rhinos. The foundationâ€™s main focus is to provide anti-poaching units with the right equipment and training so that they can do a better job of protecting the species as well as raising awareness.
Smith is welcomed by wildlife veterinarian and Chipembere Trustee Dr. William Fowlds, who has risked his life protecting the prehistoric White Rhino. His hope is to protect the species from extinction.
"I was deeply moved and horribly angered to learn about the rhino crisis in Africa firsthand. There is no two ways about how barbaric it is," said Kelly Slater (USA). "There are only about 25,000 rhinos left in the world and last year alone over 1,000 were killed in South Africa. I didnâ€™t know all this, so coming here today was a real eye-opener for me. It was great to see some rhinos and learn more about the conservation efforts.â€
Dr. Fowlds explains to the team how the scarcity of the rhino and the intermittent availability of rhino horn drives the price higher and intensifies the pressure on the declining populations. For people whose annual income is often far below the subsistence level, the US$60,000 value for 1 kilogram of rhino horn is compelling.
Smith and Slater take in the disturbing image of a rhino poached in the area in March 2012; the animal was fatally wounded and died during the course of the night. Poaching methods include using tranquilizer guns to bring the rhino down, hacking off the horn, and leaving the rhino to wake up and slowly bleed to death.
â€œThey are such an iconic animals and their value to us is indescribable,â€ said Dr. William Fowlds. "We are not going to solve the crisis from within South Africa. The whole global community has to get behind this and share the reality of what happens. If we donâ€™t get that message out we wonâ€™t ever be able to stop whatâ€™s happening.â€
According to the latest figures, more than 500 rhino have been poached in South Africa so far in 2014. Despite efforts to combat poaching, the number of rhinos killed continues to rise each year. Consuming rhino powder has become a status symbol and a sign of wealth among the newly rich in many Southeast Asian countries.
The market for rhino horn and by-products is fueled by cultural and religious beliefs in its healing properties, and the misinformation that it can increase virility, libido, and strength. The reality is that rhino horn is comprised of keratin, a chemical substance also found in human hair and nails, and which has no medicinal properties.
The challenge faced by conservationists is to educate the millions of potential consumers about the reality of rhino powder's properties, or lack thereof. At the same time, they're working to shift perspectives about the value of wildlife in general in order to stem the demand, and ultimately collapse the market.