Two Cornwall area women, an emergency doctor and a science teacher, are on a special mission to save endangered rhinos from the clutches of poachers in Africa.
In recent months, a record number of rhinos were slaughtered in South Africa due to an ever rising demand in Asia for their horns.
“The rhinos are being tortured and killed for nothing,” explained Dr. Melissa Yuan-Innes, a writer and an emergency-room physician who works at the Cornwall Community Hospital and Glengarry Memorial Hospital in Alexandria.
She adds the rhino horn has been touted as a cure for fever, seizures, cancer - even a hangover - and is also thought by some to be aphrodisiac.
However, a study by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, says rhino horns may offer a marginal benefit to combat fever, at best.
Yuan-Innes cautioned that if rhinos are slaughtered at this rate, they will be extinct in 10 years.
“My children may never see one in the wild,” she said in an interview.
The physician and her travelling companion and friend, Rebecca MacKay, a science teacher at the Glengarry District High School in Alexandria, were in South Africa during the March Break to observe rhinos in Kruger National Park.
“We became immediately interested in the plight of these beautiful animals,” said Mackay. “We felt compelled to do something to raise money to support both anti-poaching efforts in South Africa and education programs in Asia.”
The duo has organized a fundraising dinner May 25 at 21430 Butternut Lane in north Lancaster.
Everyone is welcome to attend the fundraiser.
The evening will feature a traditional South African dinner. There will also be a silent auction featuring items purchased in South Africa and Swaziland.
Funds raised will be distributed through the Wild Lands Conservation Trust and go towards anti-poaching activities in South Africa.
At the dinner, the two will talk about the plight of the rhinos. The talk will be supported by their personal experiences in Africa and what can and should be done to save rhinos.
The duo became even more interested in saving rhinos after reading an opinion piece in the Seaway News about the slaughter of rhinos in South Africa.
Yuan-Innes and Mackay visited South Africa and Swaziland earlier this year with a group of 44 people.
While Mackay helped supervise the students, Yuan-Innes helped as an emergency doctor. Two nurses were also part of the group.
The trip was arranged by Lori and Craig Carlisle, teachers at Char-Lan District High School in Williamstown who had been to South Africa before.
“I was horrified by the rhino-poaching stories,” said the doctor. “I came home determined to make a difference. By having a fundraiser, we can raise money and also raise awareness.”
At least 443 rhinos have been killed in South Africa in 2011, up from 333 the previous year.
The demand for rhino horns has grown in recent years because of unsubstantiated beliefs in Asia that ingesting rhino powder can cure or prevent cancer.
South Africa is home to more than 20,000 rhinos.
The country was losing about 15 animals a year a decade ago.
But poaching has increased dramatically from about 2007 as a growing affluent class in places such as Vietnam and Thailand began spending more on rhino horns for traditional medicine.
South Africa is home to more than 90 per cent of the rhinos in Africa.
Rhino horns have been used for centuries in Chinese medicine, where it was grounded into a powder and often mixed with hot water to treat a variety of illnesses, including gout, high fever, rheumatism and even devil possession.
Conservationists and animal experts say nothing is more tragic than to see this totally unnecessary and brutal killing of rhinos for its horns.
They say rhino power has zero medicinal value.
The trip to South Africa was the first for both Mackay and Yuan-Innes.
“I was incredibly moved by the beauty of South Africa. Seeing large wild animals up close, including the rhino, was a powerful and humbling experience,” said Mackay.
If rhinos were being killed by people who needed their meat for food for their families, Mackay said, she would not be as concerned with their endangerment.
“But rhinos are being killed for their horns and their supposed medicinal properties.”
Mackay said this is an act of total self centeredness on the part of humans.
“It demonstrates our complete disregard for the life of another organism that is a thing of great beauty, complexity, and above all, has a place and a purpose in this world.”
Both, Mackay and Yuan-Innes plan to return to Africa.
“I have dedicated my career helping to heal people, but my heart has always gone out to nature conservation and animals in need,” said Yuan-Innes.
She said they often talk about man’s inhumanity to man but not about the human race’s inhumanity to animals.
The two friends are planning to return to Africa soon and take in a number of other countries.