Two rhinos are killed every day in South Africa alone and if this continues, 1,000 of the magnificent creatures could be killed by the end of the year.
A report in The Star newspaper says 618 rhinos have been killed so far this year, compared to 668 in 2012 and 448 in 2011. The trend is disturbing because South Africa is home to 73 percent of the wild rhinos in the world, as well as 83 percent of Africa’s rhinos.
The Department of Environmental Affairs has commended law enforcement agencies for arresting 191 suspects since the beginning of the year. The government has stepped up actions against poaching, but despite the increased involvement of police, park rangers, and the military, the number of dead rhinos continues to rise.
The sudden rise in demand for rhino horn is a result of increased wealth in South-East Asia and China, and according to the Save the Rhino campaign, Taiwan. Most reports indicate China and Vietnam as major new markets for the growing middle class in those countries.
Contrary to popular belief, rhino horn is not used as an aphrodisiac in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) but is used as part of concoctions for many cures, from nosebleeds to serious conditions including high fevers, as this article describes. However, the elderly practitioner interviewed said there were alternatives and rhino horn was not necessary to effect a cure.
As PBS reports, rhino horn has been found to be partially effective in showing the presence of poisons. The reason for this, PBS says, is that the horn is grows like human nails or hair, or horse or buffalo hoofs. So rhino horn, unlike many other horns, is not part bone and part keratin, but all keratin.
However, no serious research has been done on the efficacy of TCM or other, quite similar Asian traditional systems.
Perhaps countries like South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya and other successful wildlife-conserving nations should try to impress on the public in China, Taiwan and Vietnam that if they need keratin, they can just cut their nails and grind up the clippings, as the PBS article suggests.
Although some success has been made in catching poachers, as long as prices are high in the target market areas and demand is high and even increasing, it doesn’t seem likely that people will stop killing the rhinos.
Perhaps a combination of information and prevention is what it will take? And if it does not work, then those strange, but noble, lumbering big beasts in our game reserves will vanish forever.