Native to eastern and southern Africa the black rhinoceros makes a lasting impression on all who witness this magnificent beast. The black rhinoceros can be distinguished from its cousin the white rhino by the shape of its upper lip, the black rhino has a hooked lip while in the white rhino the upper lip is square. The reason for the lip shape is simple, the black rhino is a browser and the hooked lip helps the animal to feed on the leaves found on trees and bushes. The black rhinoceros also happens to be the smaller of the two types, which is amazing considering it can weigh over 3,000 pounds (the white rhino in comparison weighs up to 5,000 pounds).
The black rhinoceros is truly remarkable and one can be forgiven for thinking that this large regal looking animal faces no predators. But there is one predator that relentlessly hunts the rhino, and it does not hunt the rhino to eat or to make clothes out of the rhino’s thick hide. No, the black rhino is hunted for its horn, and the hunter is Man. In 1970 the black rhinoceros population numbered around 70,000, by the 1990’s the population hovered just over 2,000. Rhino horn used to be valuable in Yemen, where the handles of ceremonial daggers worn by men were made out of the horns of rhino’s. However, imports of rhinoceros horns into Yemen were banned in 1982. This ban closed a market that once contributed to the killing of rhinos for their horns.
However, a market in Asia, especially China, is still ongoing and has the populations of rhinos in its crosshairs. The horns of all species of rhinoceroses are made out of keratin, the same substance that makes up our hair and nails. In traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM, rhino horn is a very valuable natural resource because the followers of TCM believe that the horns of rhinos can cure various illnesses such as gout, rheumatism as well as fever. This makes the horns of all rhino species very coveted objects in Asian countries. There is no scientific evidence that supports the beliefs that TCM holds for rhino horn but that has done nothing to stop the demand. In the 20th century there was a run on the populations of African rhino’s leaving the black rhinoceros on the precipice of extinction.
However, since the dark days of the 1990’s when it looked as if we might lose the black rhinoceros to the jaws of extinction, the animal has made a comeback. Conservation groups decided to not simply allow the rhino to slip away and joined together to help bring the animal back and today it numbers just under 6,000. A far cry from the population heights of the 1970’s but a bright spot when compared to the nineties. The work is far from over though because the black rhinoceros is still listed as critically endangered, and another large scale run on the population could very well undo all the progress that has been made in the past two decades.
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