I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
Rhinoceroses have been slaughtered in huge numbers in Africa by poachers who can get a high price for the animals’ horns. The endangered species was hunted to the brink of extinction before conservation and security measures halted the decline in numbers.
The Rhino Horn Trade
There’s a widely held belief in China and Vietnam that ingesting powdered rhinoceros horn increases male potency, and cures cancer and heart disease; it doesn’t, but that doesn’t squash belief in its power.
The mystery ingredient that is supposed to miraculously raise male genitalia from the dead is keratin; that’s what rhinoceros horns are made of. Human nails are made of the same substance. However, nobody will pay $6,000 for a gram of your toenail clippings, which is what a gram of rhino horn can fetch on the black market. This, despite the fact that toenail clippings will produce precisely the same effect as the rhino horn, i.e. none.
With the incredible powder selling for almost ten times the price of gold, by weight, there is an enormous incentive to get into the trade.
The World Wildlife Fund tabulates the carnage: “At the beginning of the 20th century, 500,000 rhinos roamed Africa and Asia. By 1970, rhino numbers dropped to 70,000, and today, around 27,000 rhinos remain in the wild.”
Ban on the Rhino Trade
In 1977, the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species passed a a ban on the commercial exploitation of rhinoceros horns. It’s an international ban but individual countries are not necessarily bound by it.
Anyway, the potential riches ensures that there are plenty of people willing to deal with a black market and risk the consequences of getting caught.
In 1993, China brought in its own ban of rhino horn trading. The move was hailed by conservationists as a good step in saving the animals from extinction. But, in 2018, the Chinese government reversed its order and announced it was lifting the ban. There was a massive outcry and China re-reversed and brought the ban back.
What China wanted to do was legitimize a legal trade in certain animal products.
The horn of a rhinoceros, if removed, will grow back in between 18 and 24 months.John Hume is a breeder in South Africa with more than 1,600 rhinos on his ranch.
Animals are tranquilized and all but a stump of the horn is cut off with a chain saw. It’s noisy and looks brutal but is said to be no more disruptive than a person clipping their finger nails. Hume’s argument is that by selling legally grown rhino horns in the market, the price of poached horns would drop and lead to greater protection for the animals.
Although controversial, there is some support for Hume’s view.
Rhino Poaching in South Africa
South Africa is home to 80 percent of the world’s population of rhinoceroses. Consequently, it’s also the country were more of the animals are killed for their horns than any other.
The rise in numbers is alarming. In 2007, a total is 13 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa. By 2014, the butchery had risen to 1,215 animals; this was the second of a five-year run during which more than 1,000 rhinos were killed. Something needed to be done.
In a wide-ranging program South Africa has controlled the poaching and this encourages conservationists seeking to protect other endangered animals. In 2019, 594 rhinos were killed by poachers; still a high number but trending in the right direction.
Controlling Rhino Poaching
South Africa’s campaign against the loss of life among rhinoceroses has been a two-pronged approach. Writing for The Globe and Mail, Geoffrey York notes that “Progress has been made on the demand side by reducing Asian demand for rhino horn, and on the enforcement side by detecting and arresting poachers before they can strike.”
In Vietnam, rhino horn has become a status symbol in the country’s growing middle class. So, conservationists have been using an education approach to change consumer behaviour pointing out that the medical claims surrounding rhino horn power are completely without foundation. It seems to have worked as Geoffrey York reports “Rhino horn in Vietnam is gradually beginning to lose its status as a prestigious luxury product.”
Almost all of the poaching takes place in game reserves such as the Kruger National Park, an immense space that covers nearly 20,000 km2 (7,523 sq mi).
Park rangers patrol day and night, but they can’t be everywhere all the time in such a huge territory. Poaching usually takes place after dark so four helicopters with night vision-trained pilots are deployed. Motion-triggered cameras, sensors, and radar add to the protective measures. But, it’s the dogs that have been very effective.
Specially trained tracker dogs “Have contributed to almost 96 percent of all arrests inside Kruger National Park,” says Isaac Phaahla, a park spokesman.
The success of these measures can be seen in the death toll in the first half of 2020; it was just 166.
- Rhinoceroses use their horns as weapons. The animals are territorial and defend their domain against intruders. The horns are also used for digging in dry ground for food.
- There are five species of rhinoceroses alive in the world today:
White rhinos―Population: 18,067
Black rhinos―Population: 5,630
Greater one-horned rhinos―Population: 3,300―3,600
Sumatran rhinos―Population: Less than 100
Javan rhinos―Population: 72.
- In a game reserve in KwaZulu-Natal the horns of many rhinos were removed making the animals of no value to poachers. As a result of the dehorning, the killing of the animals plummeted.
- The Australian Rhino Project has imported 80 rhinos from South Africa with the aim of setting up a breeding colony as an insurance plan to protect the species from collapse.
- In 2018, Chris D. Peyerk of Shelby Township, Michigan, shot and killed a black rhino in Namibia. He paid $400,000 to an anti-rhino poaching organization for the trophy hunt.
- “Rhino Facts.” World Wildlife Fund, undated.
- “State of the Rhino.” International Rhino Foundation, undated.
- “How South Africa’s Struggle against Poachers Brought Rhinos Back from Near Oblivion.” Geoffrey York, Globe and Mail, January 3, 2021.
- “China’s Move to Legalise Use of Rhino Horn and Tiger Bones Criticised.” Caroline Chebet, The Standard, Kenya, January 2, 2019.
- “How Chopping off Their Horns Helps Save Rhinos from Poachers.” Tony Carnie, The Guardian, May 31, 2018.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2021 Rupert Taylor
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 15, 2021:
It is beyond sad that rhinos are killed for their horns. Hopefully, the prevention measures will save more of them, and people will become more cognizant about the subject so that demand keeps lessening.
John Hansen from Queensland Australia on January 15, 2021:
Rupert, it is a shame any animals are hunted for horns, ivory, etc. It sounds like the dehorning, though unpleasant, may be a way to deter poachers. Good old Australia taking on a rebreeding program. Good article, thanks for sharing.
Ann Carr from SW England on January 14, 2021:
Such beautiful animals. I think the message is gradually getting through but as long as people buy the horn, this trade will not stop. Money makes us do awful things, though I suppose for some it's the only way to make a living. Maybe, but those who organise it take advantage of that, I think.
A thought-provoking hub, Rupert.
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on January 14, 2021:
I think these are such beautiful animals, and can't believe they're still hunted. So sad. =(