The ever-rising demand for rhino horn is decimating the populations of rhino found in Africa and Asia. Conservationists fear that the high-profit world of poaching, of which rhinos are a main target, will lead to the extinction of all rhinoceros species on the planet. Unfortunately as population numbers decline, the price for horns increases, driving poaching further. If the last few years are any indication, poaching will likely eliminate all rhino species within the next few decades, if not sooner.
Rhinos in Asia are greatly decimated, including the Javan rhino which only numbers around 40 individuals. The Javan rhino was once the most prolific of the five Asian rhinoceros species but now conservationists feel their extinction is likely. Recently the last Javan rhino found in Vietnam was killed, leaving the only members of the species residing in Indonesia. There are no Javan rhinos currently in captivity. The Sumatran rhino numbers about 400 and the Indian rhino has approximately 2,400 individuals.
Of the two species in Africa, the black rhinoceros is critically endangered and only 4,000 individuals remain. The white rhinoceros, which is also found in Africa, has stronger numbers with more than 18,000 but nowhere near their past population figures. The largest population of rhinos is found in South Africa, with over 18,000 white rhinos and about 1,900 black rhinos. Between 2000 and 2005, the average number of rhinos poached in South Africa was 36. However, since then the number of poached rhinos in South Africa alone has skyrocketed.
The number of rhinos killed by poachers in South Africa alone was at least 443 in 2011. This marked a record number of deaths due to poaching in the country, just as the previous total of 333 in 2010 was also a record. Experts predict that yet another record number of rhinos could be killed in 2012 due to increasing demand for the horns.
African rhinos are in greater danger of poaching due to their larger horns, however, Asian rhinos are facing the same dangers. The reason poaching of rhinos has become increasingly popular is due to the demand from Asia, where it is used for various Chinese remedies. Vietnam has been part of the recent escalation of rhino poaching as their demand for rhino horns has significantly increased recently. One pound of rhino horn can sell for up to $50,000. A rhino’s horn averages between 6 and 8 pounds. Recent demand increases are partially blamed on the belief that the horns can help with cancer, especially in Vietnam.
While the trade largely resides between the African and Asian continents, other regions of the globe are also becoming involved in the illegal trade of rhino horns. Recently a group of at least seven rhino horn smugglers were arrested in the United States for their part in the trade and subsequently their tie to poaching. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife worked for a year and a half on the investigation leading to the arrests. Officials hope that the arrests have greatly impacted global smuggling of the horns, but the network is vast and fragmented.
Individuals were arrested in California, New York, New Jersey and Texas. The individuals were found with at least twenty rhino horns and $1 million in money and material items purchased due to their smuggling. In one case at least eighteen shipments of rhino horns were intercepted during the course of the investigation. The rhino horns smuggled by the individuals ended up in Vietnam and China.
Assistant attorney general of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Justice Department, Ignacia Moreno, stated: “The rhino is an animal of prehistoric origin that is facing possible extinction because of an illegal trade for its horns on the black market that is driven by greed.”