Sadly, elephants are not alone in facing extinction. The African rhino population now stands at 25,000. But that number is rapidly plummeting. In South Africa, over 1,215 rhinos were killed in 2014. The number of rhinos killed over the past seven years (from 2007-2014) has escalated by a jaw-dropping 9,300%.[i] In 2015, the death toll fell slightly to 1,175.[ii] But they are still being killed at rates higher than their ability to reproduce.
Like elephants, the primary reason for their population decline is poaching. Rhino horn fetches “as much as $60,000 a pound” in Asia, more than the price of gold and cocaine.[iii] This exorbitant street value incentivizes poachers, but at an enormous cost to local economies, the environment, and the animals themselves.
Vietnam drives the demand for rhino horn. Its purported curative powers have taken on a magical quality. It is believed to cure cancer, hangovers, and even act as an aphrodisiac. These beliefs are false, since rhino horn is comprised largely of keratin, the same material as the human fingernail. But the facts have yet to overcome the myths about rhino horn; subsequently, human ignorance and greed are driving them to the brink of extinction.
Poaching: The Effects
Like elephants, rhinoceroses are being poached to the brink of extinction. They are also a “keystone species.” A 2014 study discovered that their natural grazing behaviors play key role in keeping the grasses short, which allows others species to feed on them.[iv] These shorter grasses, then, encourage biodiversity.[v] In summation, rhinos keep the grass cut, which allows other species to live.
Their extinction, like that of elephants, will cause environmental degradation and affect other species. Trade in their horn adds money to the coffers of African terrorists and transnational criminals. When we protect the rhino, we also protect ourselves and the environment. (For more details on effects of rhino poaching, please refer back to the page on elephants. The illegal trafficking of rhino horn is also a part of the illegal trafficking of wildlife).
[i]. “Make or Break Year Ahead for South Africa’s Rhinos,” World Wildlife Fund. http://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/make-or-break-year-ahead-for-south-africa-s-rhinos. Accessed January 29, 2015.
[ii]. “Poaching Statistics,” Save the Rhino. https://www.savetherhino.org/rhino_info/poaching_statistics. Accessed March 18, 2016.
[iii]. Del Quinton Wilbur, “Agents Tackle Rhino Horn Smuggling From Miami Hotel Room,” Bloomberg News, July 6, 2014. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-07-07/agents-tackle-rhino-horn-smuggling-from-miami-hotel-room. Accessed January 29, 2015.
[iv]. Rachel Nuwer, “Here’s What Might Happen to Local Ecosystems If All the Rhinos Disappear.” Smithsonian.com, February 27, 2014. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/articles/heres-what-might-happen-local-ecosystems-if-all-rhinos-disappear-180949896/?no-ist. Accessed April 2, 2016.
[v]. Jason G. Goldman, “What Will Happen After the Rhinos are Gone?” University of Washington Conservation, February 19, 2014. http://conservationmagazine.org/2014/02/will-happen-rhinos-gone/. Accessed February 23, 2015.