Conservation Biology

Friday, March 16, 2007

The illegal trade in endangered rhinoceros species

There is an increasing conservation of endangered flora and fauna species at both national and international level. Endangered species means the species whose population is so small and is in danger of becoming extinct through out the world (1). Many species are facing with extinction due to the threat of illegal trade in wildlife and poaching. Presently the illegal trade of endangered species is a big problem all over the world. South Africa is the first country that tries to fight the illegal trade of endangered species (8).

Two hundred million years ago (Miocene era), mammals such as the rhinoceros were in abundant around the world. Today they are few rhinoceros left (5). The rhinoceros is a big mammal that belongs to the family of Rhinocerotidea and is the second largest terrestrial mammal around the world. The elephant is the biggest mammal on the land. Rhinos are faced with extinction because they are killed by people for their horns.

South Africa is considered as successful in nature conservation more especially in the conservation of white rhinos. In the beginning of 20 century, rhinos were almost extinct. During 1825 and 1900 the numbers of rhinos were declined by 50 individuals in Kwazulu Natal (5).

There is a huge demand for rhino horns in the market. Rhino horns have been in demand by different people like Arabs, Europeans, Africans, Chinese and Indians for different purposes or beliefs. Some Chinese people believe that the powdered horn of rhinos is used as a traditional medicines for treating fever (7).

Some people believe that a powder produced from rhino horns could cure many diseases, including diphtheria, nose bleeds and measles. Others believe that, a sip of water boiled with Rhino horns may help to cure chest pains, and can stop headaches, coughs and snakebites. Many people also believe powdered rhino horn helps to keep the energy of youth to contribute in sexual stamina. However, scientists say that this is a myth but people continue on poaching. Currently there are programs that work on conserving the rhinos from poachers such as, Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) such as World Wildlife Fund (WWF) (5).

Rhinos are also killed by hunters to obtained their horns which are use to manufacture trophies as it worth a lot of money. Nationally, the use of rhino horns for medical purposes has been illegal since 1993. There is still a need for conservation of rhinos in South Africa as they add value in our economy because of their horns which are very much expensive in the market (5).

Currently rhinos face the threat of extinction in the wild. The remaining of rhino horns is abundant in east Africa. There are five different types of rhinos living; these are black rhino, white rhino, Indian Rhino, Javan Rhino and Sumatran Rhino (2).

The Black rhino (Diceros bicornis) prefers to live in grassland, tropical bushlands, and savannahs in Africa (3). Its diet is a browser using its upper lips to grasp branches, twigs, stems and leaves. D. bicornis and the white rhino (Ceratotherium simum) have two big horns on their nose. D. bicornis and C. simum are mostly found in Southern and central Africa. C. simum lives in short-grass and long –grass savannahs It has a neutral grey colour (1).

The Indian Rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis) is found in southern Nepal and in Northern India but it prefers to live in riverine grasslands and in floodplains. R. unicornis feeds on fruit, leaves, trees, grasses, cultivated crops and shrub branches. The R. unicornis and the Javan Rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus) have one horn and have brown-gray colour (8). The Javan Rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus) is found in Ujung Kulon National Park on the island of Java in Indonesia and it prefers to live in lowland tropical rainforest. The R . sondaicus are mostly browser but it can graze. The R . sondaicus has gray colour and hairless (7).

The Sumatran Rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) is mostly distributed in Southeast Asia of Indonesia and Malaysia. It prefers to live in Tropical rainforest. D. sumatrensis Feeds on fruit, leaves, twigs and bark. The Sumatran Rhino has two horns and is red-brown in colour (6).

All rhinos are herbivores. All rhinos have large heads, thick legs, excellent hearing, broad chest and poor eyesight. All rhinos have no true horns as they do not have the bony cores that are found in other animals like sheep, goats and antelopes. The horns of rhinos are not attached to skull. Its horns have keratin fibers unlike those that are found in fingernails and hairs of human. Rhinos used their horns for several purpose; they use their horns to defend themselves and their young against predators (4).

The international trade in rhino horn indicate that the above mentioned rhinos are listed as endangered. The most endagered rhino today is black rhino because in 1900s they were abundant. In 1995, the black rhino were decreased to be less than 2,500 in number (3). A few decade years ago, the world rhino exceeded 100,000. Presently the world rhinos population are less than 11, 000 (3). The rhinos were decreased in number as a results of poaching and illegal trade of rhino horns.

The international traders place law agencies in South Africa to limit problem of illegal trade of endangered species and poaching. The South Africa authorities try to stop the illegal trade in the rhino horns (2).

The major rhinoceros population are found in South Africa National park including provincial reserve in Kwazulu Natal. Currently, all the reserves having rhinos are patrolled on a daily basis. During the patrol, the game rangers report any things that cause the mortality of rhino. The Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) such as World Wildlife Fund (WWF) makes vast contributions towards the purchase of specialised monitoring horns of rhino (5).

Today is not easy for one to buy the horns of rhinos because all over the province each stock of horns are marked and registered. The South Africa National Park (SANP) marks the rhino horns stocks and keeps the registers of all legal stocks (2). The horns of rhinos are marked with a number and serial number that includes codes for the place in which the horns where found. Rhinos are protected under the (CITES) Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Agreements to limit the illegal trade on animals are made with more than 120 nations (2).

The WWF and Endangered Wildlife Trust are actively intervening in South Africa conservation by decreasing the problem of poaching and the level of illegal trade of endagered species. In South Africa, they said that anyone who poaches rhino or selling the horns of rhinos without permision will be given the fine of R100 000 or 10 years in prison. The legal trade in endangered rhinos will help to protect the remaining rhinos from extinction.


1. Wikipedia contributors. endangered species [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2007 Mar 13, 22:33 UTC [Cited 2007 Mar 14]. Available from:

2. Robert Savannah,1998. Rhinoceros [Online].[Cited, 13 March 2007]. Available from:

3. Anonymous. 2006. South Africa Conservation.[Online].[Cited, 13 march 2007]. Available from:

4. E. Martin, 1983. Rhino exploitation [Online].[Cited, 12 March 2007]. Available from:

5. Home page. Rhinoceros [Online].[Cited 11 March 2007]. Available from:

6. Barger N, 1995. endangered species- Rhinoceros [Online].[Cited, 09 march 2007]. Available from:

7. Jessica D. Rhino [Online].[Cited, 14 March 2007].Available from:

8. Kathleen E, The Illegal Trade in Endangered Species1; African security review[Internet]. 1997 [Cited, 11 March 2007] 6 (1). Available from:

Linette Netshiheni




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  • Hi Linette

    I didn't know that the horns of rhinos are important that they cure all the diseases you mentioned. Thanks again for explaining the other types of rhinos, I only knew black and white only. It is true that rhinos are declining, I was in Kruger not so long and two days were spent travelling around the park observing animals but in all these days, only one rhino was observed. This is just showing that they are becoming scarce. The introduced laws and fines related to illegal trading and killing of rhinos for their horns is helping since nowadays it is rare to hear a case related to the killing of the rhinos in South Africa.

    By Blogger Dianah Nangammbi, at March 19, 2007 3:36 PM  

  • Yemen was the world’s largest consumer of rhino horn, importing over 6,000 pounds annually- approximately 40% of the total rhino horns in trade at that moment (1). In Yemen (Middle Eastern country) rhino horns are used to make weapons and handles for ceremonial knife known as jambiyas. People were told that the use of rhino horn will lead to rhino extinct by conservationists. Yemens agreed to cease to use rhino horns. The chemical tests on the horns have been done to test medicinal effect, and the results indicated that horn has no medicinal effect. As a result conservationists promoted various medicines in Far East countries to decrease the demand of rhino horn. The conservationists were expecting that the value of rhino horn will fall and poachers will discontinue in the killing of rhinos (2). The import of rhino horn was banned in 1982 by Yemen government but in the mid 1990s about 330kg of horn were being illegal trade into the country yearly (1). Yemens continued with poaching and an illegal trade of rhino horns because they were motivated by increased prices of rhino horns.


    By Blogger Kedibone, at March 23, 2007 1:21 PM  

  • The decline in the number of rhinos around the globe is attributed to the fact that the trade of the rhino horns was legal in the early 1970s. The ban in the legal trade of the rhino horns in 1976 encouraged the illegal trade of the rhino horns. This is because the ban leads to the increase in the prices of the rhino horns which also lead to the increase in poaching of the rhinos. But now people have realized that the trade in the rhino horns generates a lot of money.

    By Blogger peter, at March 23, 2007 2:29 PM  

  • Hi Peter

    Your comment is really interesting. Basically you're saying that making trade in rhino horn illegal results in an increase in poaching for this purpose. What about drugs then? By your logic, banning certain drugs would lead to higher prices (of course) and also to increased demand. So how about it? Should marijuana - just to choose an arbitrary example :) - be legal?

    By Blogger NcK, at March 28, 2007 10:57 AM  

  • Does anybody know where illegal traffic activity can be reported to online - a kind of blog maybe, where investigators and / or NGOs can find inspirations for cases to be followed or researched in-depth?
    E.g. I have been travelling in South-East Asia and on various occasions I have found merchants offering Rhino-horns on markets. Now - I am just a tourist and lack the ability, the time and the motivation to verify whether the sold horn is an original and how to denounce the fact. It would be good if there was such a blog. I have been searching the internet for 2 hours with meagre results. Thank you for any hints or for creating such a blog yourself!


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at February 25, 2008 1:09 PM  

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