The poaching of rhinos for their horns has again been highlighted in the news, showing that poaching is not a fading issue. Of the world’s five Rhino species, the Black, Javan and Sumatran rhinos are critically endangered, with the Indian rhino listed as vulnerable. It is only after hard conservation work that white rhinos are not threatened however there are fears that poaching may destroy these efforts.
Rhino horns are currently worth up to £50,000 a kilo and the past weekend has seen more poaching attacks. A female rhino that was soon to be of breeding age was sadly killed at Mauricedale Game Ranch in South Africa, the first poaching attack there since 2007. Reports suggest that the horn was removed with clinical precision, raising concerns that poachers have become increasingly sophisticated in their techniques. Three more rhinos, two males and a female, also came under attack in Aquila Game Reserve, Cape Town although the poachers were more brutal, using chain saws and machetes to completely hack off their prize. Luckily, park rangers came in time to treat one badly injured female and provide veterinary care to another that poachers had only had a chance to tranquilise.
Rhinos have been targeted by humans for many thousands of years, for reasons that are usually woven into cultural tradition. In Islamic culture, 12 year old boys are given a Jambiya, a dagger with a bejewelled rhino horn handle as a right of passage into manhood and as a sign of devotion to the Muslim religion. Chinese traditional medicines which use powdered rhino horns are said to cure everything from fevers to devil possession, with cancer and strokes also being listed. Such findings are supported by very limited scientific evidence, and it has been suggested that it would be as much use to chew your own fingernails as it would be to use rhino horn as they are both made of keratin.
The high demand created for these uses has caused the increases in poaching, with conservationists and game reserves taking serious action against poachers. Many game reserves have even gone as far as employing armed ex-military guards to assist the anti-poaching effort. John Hum the self-claimed largest rhino owner in the world suggests that the crisis is larger than officially publicised and is in “firm opinion that the only way to save rhinos from extinction is by legalising the trade in their horns”.
Legalisation of rhino horns would prevent the underground trade of the product and allow it to be strictly monitored and controlled yet the proposal is not without controversy. In a bid to increase public awareness, the UK has collaborated with CITES to create a new campaign which aims to expel myths that rhino horns have curative properties. The initiative also hopes to set up workshops to help improve co-operation between countries that are affected by poaching.
By Lizy Tinsley