Reasons For Rhino Poaching

by Roseanna McBain on 28 February, 2012 · 23 comments

Powerful, proud, muscular, vegetarian and victim, are all words which can describe the Rhinoceros – coming from the Greek “rhino” meaning nose and “ceros” means horn. These majestic mammals are truly impressive in the flesh, and it’s nothing short of a tragedy that these beautiful creatures are being ruthlessly hunted into extinction by poachers, who are after their prized horns.

Composed of a substance called keratin, (the same substance that your own hair and fingernails are made of), the rhinoceros’ horn is seen as a necessity for it’s survival in the wild, as well as for some, a weapon of self-defense. The rhinos also use their horns to dig into the ground to uncover food, female rhinos use it to guide the babies around, and it is key in attracting a suitable mate – and when the horns are removed in the usual, brutal manner, often without anesthesia, the shock and pain more often then not results in the rhino’s death.

white rhino carcass inspected by vet. By arnomeintjie (Flickr)

Almost forty years ago, the rhinoceros population faced it’s biggest threat from East African poachers. These poachers smuggled the stolen horns into Yemen (a country on the Western side of Asia, closest to Africa), where they were then carved into handles for ceremonial daggers (called jambiyas) and worn proudly by youths who reached adulthood – signifying them becoming men. Nowadays, the jambiyas are made from buffalo horn, plastic and are decorated with gemstones – forgoing the “Porsche” version made from rhino horns.

Today, the reasons behind rhino poaching include a combination of factors, namely:

  • The amount that a single rhino horn is worth – clocking in at a higher value on the black-market then both gold and cocaine.
  • The poachers greed – one of the higher profile cases known to the public is of the infamous Groenewald gang (husband, wife, professional hunter and three vets) – who ran a hunting operation called “Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris”. Allegedly, they bought rhinos which were on auction (from the Kruger National Park), and then slaughtered them – selling the horns and burying the carcasses (over 20 rhino bodies found thus far on their farm), rather than pay the upkeep costs. Their court case will resume April 2012.
  • The use of it in Traditional Chinese Medicine – where it is believed to have magical healing properties. The rhino horn is ground into powder to help “cure” ailments such as vomiting, arthritis, headaches, fever – and some Vietnamese even believe, cancer.
  • The apparent ease with which rhino horns are smuggled out of Africa – along with many other endangered species.

Of course, an enlightened person would realise that there are absolutely no curative properties to be found in rhino horns (just ask people who bite their nails or chew their hair what benefits they’ve gotten from the keratin consumption). But despite scientific evidence which proves beyond any doubt that there are no changes in patients who consume rhino horn, tradition still seems to take presidence over the facts.

Lunch is served. By Tilly (Creative Commons)

It’s not just in South Africa that these atrocities are being committed. In India and Nepal, gangs of poachers pay impoverished locals to locate rhinos, where the gangs then move in and kill them; while in Malaysia and Indonesia, the teak forest plantations are growing to keep up with the demand for palm oil, and in doing so are destroying the habitat and adversely affecting the Sumatran and Javan Rhino population – which has declined to less than 50 world-wide.

Rhishja Cota-Larson, the creator and head of the Saving Rhinos LLC, believes that rhino poaching is not taken as seriously as it should be: “Exactly like illegal drugs and weapons, the illegal rhino horn trade depends on activities such as fraud, money laundering, racketeering, and violence. It requires the involvement of corrupt officials at the local, national, and international levels.”

The poaching crisis has become very hard to stop, as poaching gangs generally have access to better equipment than most park and reserve staff, says Cathy Dean, director of  Save the Rhino International.

White Rhinos. By ikiwaner (Creative Comomns)

But there is hope! Cathy also states that: “Save the Rhino International together with its regular partner the International Rhino Foundation, has launched a joint online appeal, which aims to raise funds for the Big Four rhino range countries (Kenya, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe) and to raise awareness of the rhino poaching crisis.”

The theme that resonates over and over again across pro-active organisations, dedicated to saving rhinos, is that there is one simple yet effective way to combat rhino horn poaching: Raise the public’s awareness and dispel the myth that rhino horns have medicinal properties. So spread the word and donate where and if you can. It may be difficult to dispel the myth of the medicinal properties, so perhaps we should start a new, equally preposterous myth – one that’s already shared many times over on facebook, namely: “Did you know rhino poachers testicles cure cancer?”

Quotes credited to Cathy Dean from Save the Rhino International, and Rhishja Cota-Larson from the Saving Rhinos LLC.

Main image credited to arnolouise (Flickr)

Wayne Bisset March 13, 2012 at 9:57 am

A tragedy. A year ago I put forward a plan to curb this killing…. nothing is done… too much money is made here.

Reply March 13, 2012 at 1:17 pm

Hi Wayne,

Thanks so much for your comment. I agree it’s a tragedy that more isn’t done to protect them. A very passionate post by you as well – I love the quote: “Poach animals in my country and we will hunt you down.”


Sagani March 16, 2012 at 10:55 am

Pictures like this make me ashamed to be a member of the human race. I blame the end users of products made from poaching, as much as I blame the poachers. If there was no market, then there would be no need to maime and kill these creatures. So very sad.


Mlungisi Magubane May 13, 2012 at 10:26 am

Stop rhino poaching good people. Unless the poachers are stopped, they will destroy one of the largest attractions that brings us tourist, year after year. We need to fight greedy poachers another way to deter them!


Roseanna McBain May 15, 2012 at 9:19 am

Hi Mlungisi,
Many thanks for your comment. I agree wholeheartedly that the poachers need to be stopped from destroying these beautiful animals!


Ernie Allen November 27, 2012 at 4:47 pm

Naming and shaming means absolutely NOTHING to poachers – thus I qualify HARD LABOUR. This must be of benefit to society. Ie. Working up a good sweat on a rehabilitation project with wild animals. After all: “If all the animals were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of spirit” Chief Seattle.


Roseanna McBain November 29, 2012 at 8:38 am

Hi Ernie,

Thanks so much for your response. I tend to agree that hard labour in this case, wouldn’t be amiss as it would give them plenty of time to think.


ditseo February 17, 2013 at 6:57 pm

Poachers should stop killing rhinos – they are important in our life!


Sangesakhe Speelman March 4, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Anyone who poaches Rhinos is so stupid, cause they do not think about the future generation. They do not even think about S.A’s economy


m.a.moidin March 10, 2013 at 9:28 pm

Politicians are to be directly blamed for the present crisis in the outrageous slaughter of the majestic rhino. Saving the rhino is not a matter high on their agenda. How is it possible for foreign nationalists to come to South Africa and commit cold blooded murder of our beautiful Rhino just to satisfy their greed? All the countries of the far east who are accepting Rhino Horns, I beg of you, find a suitable substitute for you potions. Leave the rhinos for the generations to come.


Roseanna McBain March 11, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Hi M.A Moidin,

Thanks for your comment and good suggestions.


Wanga Owami Funi May 16, 2013 at 9:54 am

Omg I didnt even take it that serious until I heard that 6 dead rhinos were found last night, and apparently they have killed 315 already, since the year 2013 started. Come on people, if we kill all these precious animals, what's going to happen to the big five? How are we going to stand out as a country? How do we explain what really happened to the future generations? Has it come to that now? Being inconsiderable … is that what it is now? Come on these are good animals and they deserve to live just like you feel you deserve to. Stop rhino poaching please, save our beautiful, unique animals.


Roseanna McBain May 16, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Hi Wanga,

Thanks so much for your passionate approach to this topic, I can honestly say I feel the same way you do.


Marshall Mersh May 18, 2013 at 3:16 pm

it will be difficult for us to narate stories abt the extinct rhinos to our grand children n we are going to be left with the big four, wen tourists are no loonger cming to our country we lose the economy.lets stand up.1 small issue culd lead us to a poor country.


Roseanna McBain May 21, 2013 at 9:31 am

Hi Marshall, thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, you raise some good points! :)


Calvin Ndou May 23, 2013 at 5:44 pm



Roseanna McBain May 24, 2013 at 8:48 am

Thanks for commenting Calvin. :)


joe August 6, 2013 at 9:57 am

S.A. is the only country in the world that anyone can come into and leave without being noticed. Rhino poaching is a serious crime but that’s ’cause there is too much money in it; I think even our officials are involved! There is no army on our border gates, only security guards. And R50.00 can get you to anything and anywhere in South Africa.


Roseanna McBain August 14, 2013 at 11:52 am

Hi Joe,

Thanks for your comment – I do agree that gates and borders should be better monitored, and that if there wasn’t a demand for Rhino horn, there would be no need for a supply. Hopefully the methods being implemented presently will help deter future poachers (poisoning the horns with a non-toxic substance for the animals, which makes any humans who ingest the powdered horn violently ill).


Mr spanneberg May 16, 2014 at 7:17 am

I am a committed official working in this field, and strive to protect endangered marine species everyday. There is much to say about this subject, but I can say that we can make a difference as ground level officials and field guides. For nothing is impossible if we stand united.


Parvin July 11, 2014 at 2:38 pm

Hey , what you said is soo true , its really important for all of us to know how important it is to stand up for our Rhinos ! Thank you so much for sharing this information with us. It helped me a lot in my project & I’ve learnt a lot from this post ! Thank you again (:


mpho October 1, 2014 at 12:05 pm

I have a school task on rhino poaching and this website helped me a lot thank you, I even got to know new things about rhinos.


phophe Avhavhudzani December 7, 2014 at 5:46 pm

Let’s try our best to protect Rhinos for present and future generations….its very sad to learn that rhinos are killed everyday..


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