21 November 2011

The mass murder of rhinoceros

Can nobody stop it? Can no major political leader or other public figure realise what is happening and have the guts or find a moment to speak out about the horrific, heartless, headlong slaughter of the world's rhinos which is now running out of control?

Yes of course, most people naturally have concerns at the moment which preclude worrying about the welfare of wildlife. But the rhino carnage now going on is different; in its scale, it is something quite new. Driven by an urban myth in Asia – that a Vietnamese politician had his liver cancer cured by powered rhino horn – the price of horn has shot up to about $38,000 per kilo, more than the price of cocaine, and approaching the price of gold. These lumberingly gentle, charismatic animals might as well be walking around with a solid gold nose, and as a result are being butchered as never before...

On the very day I wrote this, the world wildlife watchdog, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, announced that a further rhino subspecies, the western black rhino from West Africa, had also been driven extinct, while a third, the northern white rhino, last seen in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, had "probably" been driven over the edge. In addition to that, the IUCN said, the Javan rhinoceros itself is teetering on the brink, probably down to about 40 individuals, in a single park in Indonesia...

Now comes even more disturbing news: a report from the Humane Society International, complete with sickening photographs, reveals that the latest trend is for poachers to use silent tranquiliser dart guns, rather than rifles, as the risk of detection by wildlife protection officials is less. So while the animals are still alive, the HSI report says, the poachers "use machetes and chainsaws to hack off their horns, leaving the animals to regain consciousness with hideous deep face wounds, massive blood loss and unimaginable pain".

The executive director of HSI, Mark Jones, himself a vet, says: "The rhinos who die whilst still anaesthetised are the lucky ones."

And all this for a myth. All this for the fable, long accepted in traditional Asian medicine, that rhino horn has curative properties. In fact, rhino horn is largely composed of keratin, the substance of which our fingernails and hair are made, and has no medicinal properties whatsoever. But the burgeoning Asian middle classes – those for whom traditional medicine is a way of life – have now gone from an ancient belief that the horn cures fevers, to believing that horn cures cancer, and are bidding the price up to spectacular and disastrous levels.

Yet disappearing they are. Of the five main rhinoceros species, all except one – the population of white rhinos in South Africa – are now threatened with extinction. It is happening before our eyes. These marvellous relicts of the age of megafauna, of the time of the mammoth and sabre-toothed tiger and other remarkable beasts which died out at the close of the last ice age, are coming to the end of their time on Earth, simply through naked human greed.
From an essay by Michael McCarthy in The Independent.  Spread the word.  Perhaps it will reach someone.


  1. A new myth needs to be spread -- and fast! -- that ingesting any part of a rhino, especially its horn, will cause permanent impotence!

  2. Is there no one in all of Asia with enough creditability with their people who can stand up and say, "Enough! This is wrong and a lie!"

  3. This saddens me greatly both because I like animals more than I like people and because a solution is possible but politically impossible.

    Once near extinction the American Bison now number in the half a million and growing. If there is a profit to be made from from Rhino, the let ranchers raise them. I don't pretend that the logistics of this are simply, but does anyone think the current solution is working?


  4. Please excuse all the typos in the above comment. It has been a long morning.

  5. I am with you on everything but the idea that rhinos are "gentle." I knew a white rhino who was a favorite at the zoo where he resided. He enjoyed being hand fed, having his back scrubbed with a push broom, and would come for attention and petting when called. In spite of all this behavior, he could be dangerous and there was always at sturdy barrier between him and his keepers. He could be gentle, but he could also be dangerous.

  6. Just finished reading an excellent article in a recent issue of Outside about a national park in India where the rangers are permitted to use deadly force -- no questions asked -- to protect the rhinos. They had 2x as many poacher deaths as rhino deaths last year.

    Oh, and rhino are anything but " lumberingly gentle" -- the rhinos kill multiple rangers in this park every year.

  7. Here's a link to that article.


    National Parks throughout the world should take this approach to poaching.

  8. It’s a shame that the Vietnamese politician who believed his liver cancer was cured by rhino horn, didn’t try the powdered bones of Wall Street bankers first………….

  9. I see a sad future for the children in generations following ours. I see trips to museums where docents will lead groups past stuffed rhinos and tigers in glass cases, explaining the word "extinct".

    And for those children, they'll accept that's how their world has always been, just as we live without mammoths and Irish elk.

    How can the few remaining rhinos be protected against money in the hands of the foolish?

  10. If poachers are killing rhinos for their horns, can we surgically remove the horns first? Can a rhino live without its horn? It's certainly not a long-term solution but if it means saving a species...

  11. Unfortunately, the stupid we have will always be with us, and human desperation and greed know no bounds. Look at the syphilis-ravaged noblemen back in the day who would rape young girls in the belief that having sex with a virgin would cure them of their affliction. I would like to think we've progressed past that, but apparently not.

  12. For Amy -

    "Game wardens in Namibia and Zimbabwe, nations where less funding is available for such protection, have adopted less confrontational methods to keep their rhinos alive. The tactic is 'dehorning'. The wardens humanely remove the horns of Black rhinos and White rhinos to prevent poachers from finding any rhinos worth killing. Since rhino horns are not true horns, composed only of agglutinated keratin fibers and no bone, the removal of the horn is not harmful. Unfortunately, a lack of funding from the Nepalese government, and the governments of Namibia and Zimbabwe has resulted in a reduction of manpower in these programs. The result has been an increase in poaching..."

  13. I don't understand. If they're removing the horns can't they then turn around and sell them? Would that not supply enough money to keep the program going? Maybe the economics don't work out.

    I still think legalizing the trade is the best way to save the Rhino.

  14. Should we really be surprised at all of this. As a species, we are quite content to destroy our habitat so why not start writing off, whole species. Despite, or in spite of, all the information on the 'net. People just don't really care. We have been clubbed into submission by the 'authorities' who govern us.

  15. I can't believe politicians did not do more to save the mammoths...


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