Poaching for rhino horn
Rhino poaching has escalated in recent years and is being driven by the demand for rhino horn in asian countries, particularly Vietnam. It is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine but more and more commonly now it is used as a status symbol to display someone’s success and wealth. As South African is home to the majority of rhinos in the world it is being heavily targeted by poachers, see poaching numbers in South Africa. However poaching is now a threat in all rhino range states and field programmes are having to investment heavily in anti-poaching activities.
The scarcity of rhinos today and the corresponding intermittent availability of rhino horn only drives the price higher, and intensifies the pressure on the declining rhino populations. For people whose annual income is often far below the subsistence level, the opportunity to change one’s life by killing an animal that they don’t value is overwhelming.
Poachers are now being supplied by international criminal gangs with sophisticated equipment to track and kill rhinos. Often they use a tranquiliser gun to bring the rhino down and hack of its horn leaving the rhino to wake up and bleed to death very painfully and slowly. Poachers are also often armed with guns making them very dangerous for the anti-poaching teams who put their lives on the line to protect rhinos.
What is rhino horn?
Rhino horns are similar in structure to horses’ hooves, turtle beaks, and cockatoo bills. They are made of keratin – in rhinoceros horn it is chemically complex and contains large quantities of sulphur-containing amino acids, particularly cysteine, but also tyrosine, histidine, lysine, and arginine, and the salts calcium carbonate and calcium phosphate.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
According to traditional Chinese texts, such as Li Shih-chen’s 1597 medical text “Pen Ts’ ao Kang Mu”, rhino horn has been used in Chinese medicine for more than 2000 and is used to treat fever, rheumatism, gout, and other disorders. It also states that the horn could also cure snakebites, hallucinations, typhoid, headaches, carbuncles, vomiting, food poisoning, and “devil possession.” (However, it is not, as commonly believed, prescribed as an aphrodisiac).
Rhino horn, is shaved or ground into a powder and dissolved in boiling water and consumed by the patient.
As Richard Ellis, author of "Tiger bone and rhino horn" wrote in 2005 for the EAZA Rhino Campaign's Info Pack: "It is not clear that rhino horn serves any medicinal purpose whatsoever, but it is a testimony to the power of tradition that millions of people believe that it does. Of course, if people want to believe in prayer, acupuncture or voodoo as a cure for what ails them, there is no reason why they shouldn’t, but if animals are being killed to provide nostrums that have been shown to be useless, then there is a very good reason to curtail the use of rhino horn. There are five species of rhinoceros and, with the exception of one subspecies of African white rhino, all are in danger of being hunted to extinction for their horns. Rhinos as we know them have been around for millions of years, but Dr H. Spaiens has created a predicament from which they might never recover. It is heartbreaking to realise that the world’s rhinos are being eliminated from the face of the earth in the name of medications that probably don’t work."
There is a belief in the West that rhino horn is used as an aphrodisiac and sexual stimulant but this is not correct and seems to have been misunderstood or misinterpreted by Western media. However, research has shown that people in Vietnam are starting to believe this rumour as they are consuming it for new reasons.
Even without aphrodisiacal properties, however, rhino horn is one of the mainstays of TCM, and its collection has been responsible for the death of tens of thousands of rhinos around the world.
Make no mistake: those people who use rhino horn to cure medical ailments really believe it works. That’s what drives up the demand on which the poachers thrive. As Ann and Steve Toon commented in 2002, “For practitioners of traditional Asian medicine, rhino horn is not perceived as a frivolous love potion, but as an irreplaceable pharmaceutical necessity.”
VietNam – new uses for rhino horn
There has been a recent surge in demand for rhino horn in Viet Nam, where it is being touted as a hangover cure and treatment for terminal illnesses plus many more uses.
A survey carried out by TRAFFIC in 2013 identified that the motivation for consumers buying rhino horn is the emotional benefits rather than medicinal, as it reaffirms their social status among their peers. Image and status is important to these consumers, they tend to be highly educated and successful people who have a powerful social network and no affinity to wildlife. Rhino horns are sometimes bought for the sole purpose of being gifted to others; to family members, business colleagues or people in positions of authority.
TRAFFIC identified three main consumer groups, read their report here
The International trade in rhino horn is banned under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora). In South Africa particularly there is a call to legalise the trade in rhino horn. Read more about this in legalising the horn trade thorny issues.
What is Save the Rhino doing?
Save the Rhino is one of the few organizations working to protect all five species of rhinos through a range of activities.
Read about the work we are doing in Consumer countries to reduce the demand for rhino horn
Read about all of the conservation activities we do to protect rhinos in the field
How you can help
- Report any suspicious activity to the authorities, if you suspect someone is selling/buying rhino horn products.
- Donate towards much-needed anti-poaching equipment and support
- Become a member of Save the Rhino and join the struggle
- Become an ambassador for rhinos by fundraising and raising awareness with you friends, family, fellow students and work colleagues.
- Spread the word! Share this page on your social networking site to make other people aware of the problems