On June 28, four young Women You Should Know and one young man, all from different parts of the world, started an 8 week summer internship together. But unlike so many of their peers, they weren’t headed to an air conditioned office in a major metropolitan city ready to get a taste of corporate America. Rather, these five young strangers headed to a wildlife reserve and rhino orphanage in southern Africa on a united mission to bring an important message to the world: unless something is done, they will be the generation that watched the majestic rhino species be poached to extinction.

The team – Amanda Levine (age 19 from Los Angeles; sophomore at Franklin College Switzerland), Natalie Lapides (age 20; junior at Yale University), Taz Watson (age 26; Cape Town, South Africa), Vanina Harel (age 22; Mauritius), and Steven Kiley (age 20; Long Grove, Illinois) – was handpicked for this life saving internship by Dex Kotze, a dedicated conservationist who, despite being a busy and successful businessman, has devoted much of his time, money and energy to saving the world’s rhinos.

rhino 2

The goal of the 8 week program, which is run in affiliation with the Non-Governmental Organization Stop Rhino Poaching, is to raise critical funds and increase awareness of the plight of the rhino with these five young ambassadors building and leading the way to a global movement aimed at protecting this much loved animal.

South Africa holds 93% of the world’s population of rhino, and there are currently just 10,000 rhinos left in Africa. According to the interns’ Our Rhinos program blog, there is a huge demand for rhino horn throughout primarily Asian countries where it is prized in traditional Chinese medicine as a supposed cure for cancer and hangovers, and used as an aphrodisiac, though none of these claims have any basis of truth; horns are composed mainly of keratin, the same material that makes up our nails and hair.

In fact, just yesterday, Czech authorities said they had cracked an international gang smuggling horns of rare white rhinoceroses from South Africa to Asia. Customs officers seized 24 rhino horns, worth an estimated 3.85 million euros ($5.1 million).

At the rate at which rhinos are being killed for their horns by illegal poaching, the entire rhino population will be wiped out within 5 years, rendering the species extinct.

baby rhino 3

We don’t know anyone who would not find rhino poaching to be a cruel, sadistic, and unthinkable practice. But some may be wondering how a heinous crime committed half a world away against a member of the animal kingdom could possibly affect them. Two words: GLOBAL TERRORISM.

Amanda cites this startling fact in one of her posts on the Our Rhinos program blog where she and her fellow interns chronicle their experiences. She explains, “Rhino poaching is supporting and funding global terrorism. There is evidence that the global wildlife trade is funding groups such as Somalia’s Al-Shabab, al-Qaeda, Lord’s Resistance Army, and Darfur’s janjaweed. The wild-life trade has now become a life-line for terrorism. There are powerful and brutal syndicates that are at the top of the chain promoting the ongoing slaughter of wildlife poaching.” We had no idea.

Through their commitment to this critical cause, these five young people are a shining example of how passion and hard work can make a difference in our world.

Our Rhinos Team

The Our Rhinos Intern Team: Taz, Natalie, Vanina, Amanda, Steven

You can read and see more about what they are doing over their 8 week program here:

Blog: Our Rhinos
Facebook: Stop Rhino Poaching Internship Program
Twitter: @RhinoYPOInterns
Instagram: at RhinoYPOInterns

Facts On Rhino Poaching

2 ½ rhinos are killed every day.

Poachers don’t even try to be humane when they kill a rhino for its horn. They will take down whatever stands in their way, even a 45kg baby rhino, trying to protect its mother. They use pangas and axes to hack the horn off a rhino’s face, regardless of whether the rhino is alive or dead, then leave it. They leave it rotting next to its helpless calf, who will never be able to grow up as it should.

Rhino and baby

Rhinos are gentle. They are curious when we stop nearby to observe them.  They are protective of their calves, who need to nurse for 16 months. They communicate with each other. They are not so unlike us.

Humans are rhinos’ only predators because they have horns, made of keratin, like our fingernails. Horns that some people believe have medicinal properties – properties that are unproven. So people brutally kill them, even young rhinos, for just a nub of horn.

The rhino population has reached a devastating low due to the rise in illegal rhino horn poaching. In 2008, 83 rhinos were killed. This year in 2013 an estimated 1,000 rhinos will be killed. The situation is desperate.

Stop Rhino Poaching