Rhinoceroses are one of the planet’s most iconic animal. Children all over the world can tell you what a rhino is — there’s no other animal quite like it! But rhinos are in deep trouble. Of the five surviving species of rhinoceros in the world, four are threatened. Three of those four are critically endangered. If something doesn’t change, we might live to see the extinction of the rhinoceros.
It is not disease or climate change that is the main threat facing these incredible animals. These creatures are being hunted to extinction. Much like elephants, poachers are killing record numbers of rhinos in order to sell their horns on the black market. Because these unique creatures are so threatened, the international trade in rhino horns has been technically banned. But neither the home countries nor the buyer countries have shown much interest in effectively ending the slaughter. As a result, several rhinos are killed for their horns every day.
There are only 30,000 of these animals left. In some places, they are being killed faster than they can reproduce. And for what? The two sources of demand for rhino horns are for status objects and for use in traditional medicines. Rhino horns are made from keratin —the same material that your hair and fingernails is made from. There is no magic in a rhino’s horn. The real magic is in the evolutionary journey over millennia which produced these gigantic beings. That magic is going to be extinguished forever unless the poaching is ended for good.
The Rhinoceros Family
There are five living species of rhinoceros, all in Africa and southern Asia.
- The white rhinoceros is the largest group, with about 20,000 members. There are two subspecies: the northern and the southern. There are only 4 surviving northern white rhinos, all of them in captivity. The northern subspecies will almost certainly be extinct soon
- There are four subspecies of black rhinos. In total, there are only around 5000 surviving members of all four subspecies. Despite their names, black rhinos and white rhinos are both gray and are indistinguishable from their colors. Black rhinos are critically endangered, and will be extinct very soon unless measures are taken to stop the poaching.
- The Indian rhinoceros, or greater one horned rhino, had a population of 18,000-19,000 in 1990. Today, there are fewer than 4000 remaining. British colonists in India nearly drove the species to extinction in the early 1900s. It is unclear whether they will survive the 21st century.
- The Javan rhinoceros is one of the most endangered species on the planet. There are only approximately 60 living individuals. These creatures were once distributed throughout Asia, but in the last century their population has been slaughtered to the brink of extinction, primarily for the mistaken belief that their horns have healing powers.
- The Summatran rhino is the smallest member of the rhinoceros family. There are approximately 100 individuals left. There were over 300 of them in 1995: just twenty years ago.
Poaching and habitat loss are pushing these majestic creatures to the brink of extinction. Pressure needs to be put on the main consumers of rhino horn to take meaningful action to stop the illegal trade. Most rhinoceros horns are sold in China and Vietnam. Mostly, it is for use in traditional Chinese medicine, but they are also used as status symbols to display wealth.
Hunters in the United States have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for a permit to travel to Africa to kill one of these endangered animals. Preposterously, they argue that killing them is the only way to save them. This is absurd. Support rhino conservation work, without contributing to their demise.