At the beginning of the 20th century, there were around 500,000 rhinos living on our planet. Today there are an estimated 28,000, and some species have only a handful left in the entire world. Very few rhinos live outside national parks and reserves due to poaching and habitat loss.
It’s a startling display of how quickly humans can wipe a species off the planet: In South Africa alone, an average of two rhinos a day were killed in 2018. Its neighbor, Namibia, faces a similar issue, as the country’s black rhino population, one of the largest in the world, is under threat. The country loses around 50 rhinos a year to poachers, who hunt rhinos, cut off their horns, and leave the animals to bleed to death. The horns are then sold on the black market to customers primarily in the Asian market, where, according to WWF, they are used as “a party drug, a health supplement, and a hangover cure” and where they are believed to cure cancer.
While rhino-guarding drones, AI that predicts poaching attacks, GPS trackers tucked into rhino’s horns, and big data are all useful tools in combatting poaching, one of the most powerful weapons is the human voice. That’s why Namibian supermodel Behati Prinsloo is adding a new line to her resume and serving as a Global Ambassador for Save The Rhino Trust Namibia (SRT), an organization that works to protect the last remaining population of wild black rhinos, of which there are only about 5,000 left on Earth.
Prinsloo grew up in Namibia, spending her weekends camping with her father in the country’s national parks, which is where she fell in love with rhinos. “These animals are truly our dinosaurs,” she tells Fast Company. “They’re so awesome and gentle and curious and such a big part of Africa’s ecosystem. We cannot be the reason they go extinct.”
When Prinsloo was approached by SRT, she jumped at the chance to get involved, and soon found herself on a plane to Namibia with a film crew to follow SRT’s trackers as they kept an eye on the country’s dwindling black rhino population. “We were so overwhelmed with the passion of these guys on the ground that I really wanted to be their mouthpiece,” she says. “I really felt a special responsibility, because I do have a platform and this is something I’m very passionate about. It’s my responsibility to at least try and make a change.”
In her new role, Prinsloo is working with the trust to spread awareness about black rhino poaching and hopefully inspire the next generation to fight for their future. “They say three rhinos are poached a day in Africa,” says Prinsloo. “If it continues at this rate, there won’t be rhinos left in like 10 years, which is nuts to me. My daughters will be 11 years old and 12 years old in 10 years and there could be no rhinos for them to see. I am really trying to make people feel the urgency about this.”
As for what the average person can do to help save rhinos that doesn’t involve flying to Namibia to stand guard, Prinsloo suggests helping to raise awareness about poaching, particularly in the countries where there is demand for rhino horn, and explaining that rhinos may disappear off the face of the earth in our lifetimes. She also suggests donating to organizations that have people on the ground, like SRT, and voting for candidates who prioritize protecting the planet.
While no one would blame Prinsloo—or anyone else for that matter—for wanting to crawl into bed with the blankets over their heads after thinking about the plight of the planet and the animals that live on it, Prinsloo is surprisingly hopeful.
“I think we have to have hope,” she says. “We just all need to stand together and start making a change. It’s really exciting when you see people fired up. It makes me happy, because that’s when we can make change.”