If you’ve never seen a rhino up close before, you might think that they are aggressive especially as they are the second largest land mammals after elephants. But in reality, rhinos are actually shy and prefer to be left alone in peace. However, the onslaught of poaching has endangered the existence of their species.
In March this year, Sudan, the last male northern white rhino died of old age and health complications. Sudan’s death put his species on the brink of extinction with only two females of his kind remaining. Global outcry blamed poaching and it also placed a spotlight on poaching’s primary driver: the rhino horn trade.
To underline how serious the problem is, let’s look at five alarming facts about the rhino horn trade and how it has caused a disturbing crisis.
1. Rhino poaching rose by 9,000% between 2007 and 2014
The demand for rhino horn skyrocketed in the mid- 2000s which drove a wave of poaching in South Africa. In 2007, only 13 rhinos were killed but this number steadily rose to a peak of 1,215 incident in 2014.
Now, only about 29,500 rhinos are left on Earth and while latest stats show that there has been a 26% decrease in the number of poaching incidents in South Africa compared to 2017 - there were still over 500 rhinos poached in the first 8 months of 2018.
2. Rhino horn is used as traditional medicine even if it has no scientifically proven medical benefits
The rhino horn is not made of bone but of a dense mass of keratin, which is the same substance that makes up nails and hair. While not scientifically proven, some Asian cultures particularly in Vietnam and China, hold the belief that rhino horn can be used as a cure for a variety of medical conditions including cancer, impotence, and hangovers.
Some people also use rhino horn as a trinket or jewellery, serving as a status symbol in their cultures.
3. Rhino horn can cost $30,000 to $60,000 US Dollars per kilogram
The high price of the rhino horn, which makes it more valuable than gold, is what’s tempting poachers to kill rhinos. The BBC reported that white rhino horn in the South African black market can cost $6,000 USD per kilogram but when sold in China and Vietnam, this price can multiply by 5 to 10 times. A more recent Washington Post article reported that rhino horn prices decreased in 2016 but a kilogram can still fetch at least $30,000 US Dollars.
4. Rhinos could be extinct within the next 20 years
If the rhino horn trade is not controlled and the number of rhino poaching incidents continue to rise, a study has estimated rhinos will cease to exist within the next 20 years.
5. Poachers belong to multi-million dollar global operations
If you think that rhinos are being hunted for their horns by just run-of-the-mill poachers, then think again. Reports reveal that these rhino poachers are part of an organized crime operation with extensive resources and networks spanning multiple countries.
They are armed with military-grade equipment, vehicles, and even helicopters making them better resourced than law enforcement troops and wildlife rangers.
While more high-tech resources can assist rhino conservation efforts, it’s also critical for individuals belonging to wildlife protection groups to be well equipped with sufficient knowledge and to be expertly trained with the essential skills needed to respond to poaching incidents.
Whether you are part of a group or an individual involved in wildlife conservation, you can take part in an accredited anti-poaching course to broaden your anti-poaching knowledge.