Grim news on World Rhino Day

BY Mori Rothman  September 22, 2013 at 5:55 PM EST


Credit: Flickr/Nick Farnhill

Wildlife preservation organizations put on special events on World Rhino Day to warn of a dangerous uptick in rhino poaching.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says rhino poaching in South Africa has increased by more than 5000 percent in the last six years, and there is concern poaching could exceed the birthrate of rhinos. The WWF estimates 635 rhinos were poached in South Africa since January, just shy of the previous year’s 668.

South Africa is home to about 75 percent of the world’s rhinos, estimated at 25,000. But rhino poaching has skyrocketed in the past decade due to myths about the healing power of the rhino horns.

The horns are made of keratin, a fibrous protein that is the building block for skin and hair, and has no documented medicinal value, but the horn has been reported to sell in Vietnam for up to $1,400 an ounce, near the price of gold.

The medical myth has been difficult for animal rights advocates to dispel, and some think the rise in demand comes from a rumor that a prominent Vietnamese politician cured his cancer by consuming rhino horn powder.

Other myths suggest that the horn has properties to boost virility or cure hangovers.

Organizations say with enough support, the tide can be reversed.

“The remaining Javan and Sumatran rhinos are in critical need of attention and support, as they are teetering on the brink,” said Barney Long, Director of the WWF’s species conservation program.

“But as we have done with white, black and Indian rhinos, we can recover these species if the world would start paying attention to their needs.”