When some people think of poachers, they often think of a poverty-stricken man, poaching wildlife to feed his starving family.  This can be true, but most rhino poachers do not fit that stereotype.  In fact, in recent years, convicted poachers have included wealthy businessmen, professional hunters and wildlife veterinarians.  They use helicopters, night vision goggles, high-powered weapons and powerful veterinary drugs to take rhinos down in order to remove their horns. 

Like many species, white rhino have been killed and pushed out of wilderness areas that humans have used for agricultural purposes.  This habitat encroachment, while significant, pales in comparison to the devastation caused by the illegal trade in rhino horn.  Since 200 B.C. 200 A.D. rhino horn has been used as an ingredient in Chinese medicine.  Some people believe that it contains properties that cure arthritis, headaches, nosebleeds, cancer and stop demon possession, to name a few.  In reality, rhino horn is made of keratin and contains no medicinal properties.

For many years, ceremonial dagger handles made of rhino horn, called jambiyas were considered status symbols in Yemen and a significant portion or poached rhino horn went to support that trade.  After an extensive public awareness campaign and a fatwa (religious edict) written by the grand mufti, stating that killing rhinos was against the will of God, it became more common for jambiya handles to be made of water buffalo horn, camel nails, or plastic. In 1997, Yemen joined CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora, agreeing to ensure that the trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

At the end of the 19th century, white rhinos were on the brink of extinction.  Since then, due to intensive management and conservation efforts, population growth has increased to approximately 20,000 individuals.  Unfortunately, in the past six years, in South Africa alone, rhino poaching has skyrocketed from 13 rhinos in 2007 to 668 rhinos in 2012. 






Content provided by Canisius College students under the direction of Michael Noonan, PhD.