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Why Are Rhinos Poached?

Why is poaching such an ongoing problem? Why can it be difficult to stop? Why are rhinoceroses often a target of poachers?

February 4, 2021

If you’re interested in learning how to help stop rhino poaching, keep reading. You’ll learn more about these animals, why they are in danger from poachers, and how you can help save rhinos from poaching.

What Is Rhino Poaching?

Poaching is the illegal capture and transport of — or the hunting and killing of — wildlife. While poaching can happen anywhere, many species are targeted throughout Africa. Each year, mammals such as rhinos and elephants as well as lesser-known species are poached in the millions.

Poaching exists because of the demand for certain wildlife. In some parts of the world, especially in Asia, animals are consumed as delicacies or used in traditional medicines or preparations. Other species are hunted and captured to become pets.

Poaching can have a tremendous impact, not only on the individual types of animals targeted but on the overall environment. It contributes to endangering and even causing the extinction of species. When keystone species such as the rhino are poached, it can upset or destroy the animal’s ecosystem, affecting countless other animals and plants.

Understanding Rhinos and Their Behavior

There are five species of rhinos — the Sumatran rhino, the Java rhino, the black rhino, the greater one-horned rhino and the white rhino. Rhinoceroses live in Africa and Asia, and the species have some differences. African varieties of rhino have two horns; the Sumatran rhino has two horns, but one is typically smaller than the other; and the two Asian types of rhinos have only one horn. Sometimes Asian rhino horns are more prized because it’s thought that they are more potent than African ones.

African rhinos use their horns to fight and defend themselves from predators; they can spear and throw animals they have impaled. Asian rhinos are generally thought to be less aggressive than African ones and tend to fight with their bottom teeth, not their singular horn. African rhinos tend to eat plants that are found lower on the ground while the Asian rhino eats leaves and plants that are higher off the ground.

Two species of rhino lives in Africa — the black and white. Their names don’t have anything to do with the color of their skin as all rhinos are gray. The species differ in the shapes of their mouths; the white rhino’s lower lip is wide and flat, and designed for easy grazing of grass and low-growing plants. The black rhino’s lip is pointed rather than flat; the rhino uses it to pull leaves from branches and to pick fruit.

White rhinos are larger than black rhinos, and have bigger heads and necks. They have a pronounced hump on their back, and typically keep their head close to the ground to feed. Their front horn is usually much larger than the back one and can grow up to three to six feet long. White rhinos are territorial, sedentary and are considered semi-social; males typically only associate with females during breeding season while small groups of up to six aren’t uncommon. White rhinos may eat and rest throughout the day and night. During hot weather, they may rest during the day, wallowing in mud to keep their body temperature down and help reduce skin parasites.

The white rhino has two subspecies — the northern white rhino, and the southern white rhino. They live in savannah areas. There is estimated 18,000 southern white rhinos currently, and they are considered “near threatened.” However, there are only two northern white rhinos left, which are female and are protected by armed guards. The southern white rhino is found primarily in South Africa, with some in Namibia, Kenya and Zimbabwe.

Black rhinos include four subspecies, all of which are smaller than white rhinos. Like white rhinos, they have two horns, although male rhinos’ horns tend to be larger than females. They have smaller heads than white rhinos and browse from higher trees and bushes. They also have a hooked lip instead of a flat-based lip. Black rhinos are found in eastern and southern Africa, especially in South Africa. They are less social than white rhinos, but like white rhinos, can be active during night and day. There are an estimated 5,630 black rhinos today and they are considered “critically endangered.”

Rhinos are considered an umbrella and keystone species, which means that they have a tremendous impact on their environment. Protecting rhinos helps protect other animals as well as the species of plants in their ecosystem. Rhinos also play an integral role in the tourism industry, which helps create jobs and attracts money to local communities throughout Africa.

Why Do People Poach Rhinos?

The ongoing poaching of rhinos is due to the demand for their horn, which is used in traditional Chinese medicine and for other purposes among people in Asian countries. Rhino horn consists of keratin, which the same material is found in cockatoo bills, turtle beaks and horses’ hooves. The keratin in rhino horn contains amino acids such as cysteine, arginine, lysine, tyrosine and histidine as well as salts such as calcium phosphate and calcium carbonate. Unlike the horn of an antelope, a rhino’s horn is not attached to its skull and it will grow throughout its life.

While the medical use of rhino horn has been illegal since 1993, poaching rhinos for their horns is still an ongoing problem. Traditional Chinese medicine has used rhino horn for conditions including gout, rheumatism, fever, headaches, vomiting, food poisoning and typhoid. It is also considered to be an aphrodisiac. To use it, the horn is ground into a fine powder or shaved into slivers and then dissolved in boiling water and consumed. While there’s no evidence that rhino horn has medicinal properties, many people believe it does and that drives the demand.

What Can You Do to Help Stop Rhino Poaching?

What are some ways to prevent rhino poaching? Let people know that you want to protect rhinos by signing petitions. Use your social media accounts to create awareness. Looking for organizations that are dedicated to protecting these animals and supporting them such as with anti-rhino poaching donations, is another way to help.

How IAPF Works to Stop Rhino Poaching

Created in 2009, the International Anti-Poaching Foundation has taken an effective, comprehensive approach to conversation, including helping to prevent the poaching of rhinos. Rather than taking an adversarial approach to end poaching, it has developed a model that is innovative and empowering for the women who participate in it. The foundation’s goal is not only to protect wildlife and their habitats but to transform the lives of women who live in the communities alongside the wildlife that is in danger.

Our animal conservation organization works not only as a rhino anti-poaching organization to help stop this practice but to empower indigenous communities one woman at a time. IAPF starts at the local level, working with local residents. The foundation trains, educates and empowers women to become rangers. Rangers are respected for their important jobs, and the women who work as rangers have steady employment and consistent income while they protect their country’s natural resources.
As women develop the necessary skills to support themselves and their children, they develop confidence. They become empowered. This affects the community in a variety of ways. It encourages children to remain in school, improves health care, helps reduce poverty and disease, increases life expectancy and supports structured family planning.

Our programs work and the money we raise is used to help support conservation efforts, protecting elephants and building communities. More than 60% of the operational costs involved in the Akashinga model return to the community, with 80% of those costs reaching the rangers’ households. By empowering local communities to protect their land and the elephants that call it home, we not only reduce rhino poaching but enhance the communities that live alongside them. We work to protect wildlife but develop and enhance these communities as we empower women and their families.

You can learn more about IAPF’s impact by watching this film. There are many ways in which you can help protect rhinos and further our mission. Please contact us for more information or make a donation to our wildlife conservation charity.