The rhinoceros is a majestic creatures who can be easily identified by its distinctive horn. The name rhinoceros is a combination of Greek words rhino (nose) and keros (horn). Rhinos is one one of the Big Five (the others are elephants, leopards, lion and Cape buffalo in big game hunting and safari parlance. thee presence of rhinos contributes to safari tourism in Africa.
There are five classification of rhinos, mainly black rhinos, white rhinos, Sumatran, Javan and Indian rhinos. The white rhino is not actually white. It is a misnomer largely due to the Dutch calling them ‘wijd’ in reference to their wide, angular lips used to grazing grass. The ‘wijd’ is then anglicised into ‘white’.
Rhinos can live up to 50 years. They are herbivores and despite their bulky size, can charge at a rapid 35-40 miles an hour. While their outer skin may look like armour, it is actually rather sensitive to insect bites and sunburn, which is why rhinos love to get a mud bath. It is very difficult for rhinos to mate hence the slow rise in its numbers. Rhinos’ pregnancies are also long with a gestation period of 15-16 months. Efforts to mate rhinos in captivity were a failure since rhinos usually mate in the wild.
Rhinoceros are considered an endangered species. While the rhinoceros used to roam the earth, its number is greatly decimated from loss of habitat, hunting and poaching. In terms of numbers, there are less than 30,000 in the wild. The decline in numbers is drastic – in !960s, there were 2000 white northern rhinos. In 2018, there are only two left in the world, both females. The last male, named Sudan, died in March 2018.
Poaching is a serious problem when it comes to rhinos. Rhinoceros horn is highly prized in China and Vietnam for its largely fabricated medical claims. The rhinoceros horn is usually powdered down and mixed in water to traditionally treat fevers. Recent rumours had also made people believe the rhinoceros horn, when ingested, can cure cancers or act as aphrodisiac.
Even without any scientific proof to back this, the demand for rhino horn is high and this led to a disproportionate increase in value. On the black market, a rhino horn could fetch up to $250,000 thus making it very attractive to poachers. Not only are wild rhinos targeted for their horns, captive rhinos in zoos were also targeted. Museums with rhino horn artefacts were also raided as well.
Large scale efforts had been made to stop rhino horn trade. This includes involving the military and hiring security firms to guard the animals, with a warning that poachers will be shot dead. Trade in rhino horn is considered illegal since 1977. Other drastic measures were also taken such as sawing the horns off from live rhinos under anaesthesia and and even injecting the horns with a harmless dye to deter buyers. It is still unknown whether the dye method has been successful in stopping these animals from being poached.