There are five species of Rhinoceros in the world, the black and white rhino are found in Africa and the other three are found in India, Sumatra and Java. The African Rhino has its origins in the Miocene period about 14 million years ago but diverged into the black and white species about 5 million years ago in the Pliocene period. One can distinguish between the two species by observing the double horn of the white rhino and the darker colour of the black rhino. The white rhino is also considerably larger and heavier of the two, weighing on average 3.5 tonnes (7,700 lb).
Rhino horn more valuable than gold
In a recent article
on the value of Rhino horn, it is said that rhino horn fetches approximately US$ 57000 a kilogram on the black market, in comparison to gold which according to latest prices sells for US$ 50000 a kilogram. The demand for rhino horn is almost exclusively from the Far East where it is used in homeopathic remedies as well as for decorative ornaments. The illegal trade is well organised with several syndicates involved in the poaching, transportation and sale processes across 3 continents.
Rhino horn is made from the protein keratin, the same stuff our hair and nails are made of. A recent study shows that the horn is keratin all the way through the core with calcium and melanin curving and strengthening it. The horn is used by the rhino in foraging for food but mostly as a means of protection to head butt and toss predators.
Arrests in South Africa
In September 2010 the South African Police Service bust a poaching syndicate
and 9 members were arrested. The public were shocked to find out that local vets were involved and that they ran a sophisticated operation using helicopters, on the ground trackers and satellite location systems.
In another more recent incident
, five poachers were killed in the Kruger National Park
near the Mozambique border, in a shoot out with conservation authorities. Poachers from poor communities along the South African border with Zimbabwe and Mozambique are forced into the lucrative rhino and ivory trade due to the dire socio-economic conditions in their countries. Rhino and elephant meat also fetch a good price on the bush meat market.
Depleted rhino population
In South Africa, 333 rhinos were killed in 2010, triple the number (122) in 2009. So far this year, 5 rhinos have already been killed. These figures do not include pregnant or lactating rhinos.
South Africa is home to approximately 21,000 rhinos, more than any other country in the world. Black rhinos are listed as critically endangered with only about 4,200 remaining, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). About 1,670 black rhinos were estimated to be living in South Africa in 2009. The country’s other resident species, white rhinos, are classified as near threatened on IUCN’s Red List of threatened species.
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At the current poaching rates and natural attrition, the survival of the African rhinoceros is dependant largely on the joint intervention of conservation authorities in southern and east Africa as well as government and public funding. Couple these efforts with education campaigns in Africa and the Far East the battle to save a natural wonder of our living world can be won.
Photoblog: Saving black rhino in South Africa and Kenya