Rhinoceroses and Their Valuable Horns

A rhinoceros resting.
Conservationists feeding an orphaned rhino.
A lone park ranger in Kruger National Park.
A rhino drinking water.
Conservationists and park rangers sedating a rhino before a planned translocation.

Wild animals of all kinds are subject to poaching in South Africa, but rhinoceroses are especially exposed. This is because their horns are believed to be an important ingredient of traditional Asian medicine, and accordingly bring in big money when sold to certain Asian buyers. For the monetary reward, consequently, shady or economically desperate characters sneak up on the big animal, shoot it, harvest its horns for later sale and leave the rest of the body to rot.

Pre-emptively removing horns

To deter poachers from going after the peaceful rhino for its horns, guardians of reserves and national parks sometimes sedate rhinoceroses and cut off their horns pre-emptively. This measure has helped against poaching, but the solution is not without its problems, since rhinoceroses use their horns for intimidation, direct physical defense and digging up food. When the horns have been cut off, logically enough, the rhino cannot behave entirely naturally.

Park rangers risking their lives

Aside from pre-emptive horn removal, other methods used to protect wild animals like the rhinoceros from poaching include having park rangers go on patrol in important wildlife habitats. This job, however, implies risk to human life, since armed rangers may end up in confrontations with equally armed poachers. In line with this risk, both park rangers and poachers regularly get injured and killed in nature reserve shoot-outs throughout Africa, causing some commentators to label their battles “the forgotten war”.