It is the most valuable wildlife commodity in the world.
Fetching up to $60,000 a pound on the black market, rhinoceros horn is coveted greatly by millionaires in Asia who use it as a status symbol or grind it into traditional elixirs as an aphrodisiac.
By comparison ivory from poached elephant tusks are going for about $1,500 a pound. That’s chump change compared to rhino horn.
Large-scale poaching of the now critically endangered black rhino resulted in a dramatic 96 percent decline from 70,000 individuals in 1970 to just 2,410 in 1995 according to Save the Rhino, a strictly rhinoceros-based conservation organization.
“Thanks to the persistent efforts of conservation programs across Africa, black rhino numbers have risen since then to a current population of between 5,042 and 5,458 individuals.”
“The overwhelming rhino conservation success story is that of the Southern white rhino. From numbers as low as 50 to 100 in the wild in the early 1900s, this sub-species of rhino has now increased to between 19,666 and 21,085.”
But poaching has increased dramatically.
In 2007, 13 rhinos were poached in South Africa. That number skyrocketed to 83 the next year; and by 2015, 1,175 rhinos had been poached. That means one out of every five rhinos was killed, driven by the aforementioned Asian market.
There is no end in sight to the killing, despite the use of surveillance drones, shoot-to-kill policies on poachers in some areas and increased awareness. Today, poachers are hitting rhinos and they are hitting them hard.
Some believe the solution to saving the species involves bringing them to Texas.
Hundreds of orphaned baby rhinos could be moved into Texas where they could be kept far away from poachers on highly managed private ranches. The thought is that the gene pool could be preserved while conservationists figure out what to do with the problems in Africa.
Byron and Sandra Sadler, owners of YO Headquarters near Mountain Home have spoken to officials about offering their large ranch as a safe haven for rhinos.
“It’s a tragedy what is happening to the rhinoceros and we want to be involved in any way we can to help out this iconic species,” Sadler said.
Byron was the first USA bowhunter to receive SCI’s World Conservation and Hunting Award. In 2008 the Houston Safari Club introduced a new award titled the Byron G. Sadler Bow Hunting Achievement Award, and Byron was the first recipient.
“This is a species we might have an opportunity to save and I know the hunting conservationists of Texas will certainly get behind it,” he said.
The Texas-based Exotic Wildlife Association (EWA) is in the process of working out the details of an arrangement with South African ranchers, which may lead to the relocation of white rhinos to the U.S. where the rhinos would find safe haven in the wild through their Second Ark Foundation.
In 2015 they held a rhinoceros summit dedicated to their “Rhino 1,000” project. They are currently working on the massive red tape and fundraising it will take to bring these orphaned rhinos to Texas. Other individuals and organizations such as Dallas Safari Club, Houston Safari Club and Safari Club International are working on different aspects of saving the rhino.
Wild rhinos can still be found in parts of Asia and Africa, but they live in small fragmented populations which may not be viable (due to lack of breeding opportunities and risk of random events or disease).
Sumatran rhinos have decreased by 50 percent in the past 18 years leaving fewer than 200 surviving, primarily in Indonesia and Malaysia. Before 1900, black rhinos occurred throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa, but between 1970 and 1992, rhino populations declined 96 percent. Black rhinos went extinct in many range states, and by 1992, only 2,300 individuals survived in seven countries.
But while rhinos continue to be killed for their horns, increased security and greater anti-poaching efforts have led to increases in some populations over the past decade. Recovery of Africa’s white rhino demonstrates the benefits of strong law enforcement and conservation management. Decimated by hunting, white rhinos nearly became extinct with only about 100 surviving in the wild. Now, with good protection and successful management, the subspecies has increased to more than 20,000 and is the most abundant of all rhinos.
And in Chitwan, Nepal, rhino poaching has dropped to zero for the past year, and the population of rhinos has risen in Assam, India, over the past decade. However, it is important for the world community to remain vigilant as the threats to rhinos from poaching and illegal trade are still significant and increasing in some places such as southern Africa.
All About Rhino Horn
According to US Fish and Wildlife Service officials, these animals face extinction in part because of the world’s longstanding lust for their horn, which has been valued for centuries as a carving material and medicinal.
• Rhino horn is made up primarily of keratin – a protein found in hair, fingernails, and animal hooves. When carved and polished, horn takes on a translucence and luster that increase as the object ages.
• In ancient Greece, rhino horn was believed to have the ability to purify water.
• Persians in the 5th century B.C. thought that rhino horn vessels could be used to detect poisoned liquids, which would bubble when poured into such cups.
• In Yemen, rhino horn was long used for making the handles of special curved daggers that are presented to adolescent boys as a sign of manhood and devotion to Islam.
• The ornamental application of rhino horn was a “high society” decorative “fad” in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Through the 1920s, items made from horn ranged from walking sticks and door handles to pistol grips and limousine interiors.
• The medicinal use of rhino horn also dates back centuries.
Medical practitioners in such Asian countries as Malaysia, Korea, Vietnam, India and China used it as a treatment for many different symptoms and illnesses. In traditional Chinese medicine, ground rhino horn was prescribed for lowering fever and ameliorating such disorders as rheumatism and gout.
• Scientists have little evidence to support belief in the medical efficacy of rhino horn, and many practitioners of traditional medicine have stopped using it in light of the species’ plight. Yet such belief persists and is fueled by “urban legends” old or new about its powers as an aphrodisiac or cure for cancer.
Medicinal use continues to create demand for rhino horn. This is a demand that poses a threat to the continued survival of rhino species in the wild.
—story by Chester Moore