Rhino poaching in Africa is up 2,000% in the past three years according to conservationists.
In the past year, poachers have started using advanced technology such as helicopters, veterinary-grade tranquilizers, and night vision to hunt rhinos. Officials believe international organized crime is responsible for new gear being used by poachers.
It isn’t surprising that poaching has increased or that the hunters are now using state-of-the-art technology to hunt rhinos. Rhino horn is sold on the black market for $30,000 per pound. With each rhino horn weighing between six and eight pounds, an average kill can be a $210,000 profit.
The dramatic rise in poaching isn’t confined to Africa. There are species of rhino native to Asia, but as Asian rhinos have smaller horns, the increase hasn’t been as intense as it has been in Africa.
Demand for rhino horn is driven by folklore and pseudo-science. In Asia, rhino horn is used in traditional Chinese medicines and in other places as an aphrodisiac, and even allegedly used by supermodels as a beauty treatment.
But truthfully, none of these treatments has any basis in science. The material in rhino horn is the same material in human fingernails. Keratin has no medicinal value whatsoever, beyond what you would get from chewing your fingernails.
If poaching continues to increase, we may see the extinction of rhinos in our lifetime.
Conservationists are hoping that increased public awareness of the plight of the rhino will lead to crackdowns on the poachers and their buyers.
However, it’s reasonable to assume that as long as there is a demand, there will be those who kill rhinos even if the chance of getting caught is greater. It seems there is as much work to do on the demand side of the equation as there is on the supply side.
The process of publicly debunking the myths surrounding the use of rhino horn seems an arduous task, but a public education campaign about the absurdity of the remedies AND the plight of the rhino must be paired with increased enforcement if we are to drive down both supply and demand.
If we fail, the rhinoceros will join the ranks of animals we can only see when visiting museums.
Photo: Martin Pettitt