South Sudan’s Civil War Killed All of the Country’s Rhinos
In 2011, South Sudan — then the world’s newest country — had as many as a thousand rhinos. Four years later there are none. The civil war that broke out in late 2013 gave poachers an opportunity to hunt down every single one of the gentle horned creatures. Rhino horn powder is popular in Vietnam and other countries as a supposed hangover cure, although in fact the horn has no medicinal properties.
There are around 25,000 rhinos of five species in Africa and Asia. Poachers illegally kill more than a thousand every year. South Sudan is one of several countries where rhinos are now locally extinct. “They were there before the war, but now we have not seen a single rhino,” said Maj. Gen. Philip Chol Majak, director general of the country’s wildlife service. “We believe they were all wiped out by poachers.”
Other species have suffered, too. In the 1970s, South Sudan had 80,000 elephants. Today just 2,500 survive. Poachers kill elephants to supply the Asian market for ivory trinkets.
In late August 2015, South Sudan’s warring parties — one each led by Pres. Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar — signed a fresh peace deal, giving people some hope that wildlife might have a chance to recover. While difficult, recovery — and even local “de-extinction” — is not impossible. All of Rwanda’s lions died during the 1994 genocide, but in 2015 the now-stable country introduced a new lion pride from South Africa in a bid to begin replenishing the species in the country.
The nonprofit Wildlife Conservation Society helps to look after South Sudan’s protected areas and their resident species. The group accepts donations.