With wildlife trade the 4th largest global illegal trade behind human trafficking, drugs and weapons, we face a compelling and critical challenge. Currently, an average of 1 Rhino is killed every 9 hours in South Africa.
Poaching | The horn trade
The largest and most prominent issue facing rhinos today is the trade of their horns. Asian countries, particularly Vietnam and China, hold the current major responsibility for the detrimental collapse of all five rhino species. Although poaching is heavily targeted, incidents are still at a colossal level, pushing anti-poaching security costs higher than ever.
There are a variety of reasons why poaching of rhino occurs, most recently as horns are considered symbols of wealth and status in Vietnam. Rhino horn can also be poached for its use in Traditional Chinese Medicine, despite there being no scientific evidence of any healing properties. The horn is ground and ingested to apparently cure hangovers, fever, rheumatism, gout, hallucinations, food poisoning and even cancer. For the consumer, there is no emotional connection to the animal, and no perception of consequence. The vast majority of horns come from Rhinos that have been killed illegally. Another end-use of Rhino horn in the 70's & 80's was for ornamental dagger handles, Jambiyas. They were shipped to Yemen from East Africa for the decorative process, but recent studies have found less and less evidence of end-use in Yemen today.
Poachers are often hired by international crime syndicates. If not shot with a high-calibre rifle or snared with high-tension cable, a tranquilizer gun is often used to avoid detection. Poachers then proceed to saw off the horn, cutting into most of the face as every inch of horn holds value. Some animals have then woken up, suffering and are left to live out a slow and painful death.
Note: Rhino horn is made of Keratin, similar to all mammalian horns, hooves, beaks and scales. As is our own hair and nails.
Recorded Number of Rhinos Poached in South Africa
Data published by the South African Department of Environmental Affairs (2016)
Indian and Asian Rhino are most at risk of this threat due to deforestation and severe agricultural change. Cutting down trees for homes, farms, commercial and industrial purposes, are proving to be a major issue especially for the Sumatran Rhino. As humans begin using more space for development, the animals get pushed into smaller foreign areas where food and water may become scarce.
As a secondary threat, areas of political vulnerability, government instability and war become easier to pursue and succeed in crime. Corruption naturally escalates in all aspects, including poaching.