• The black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This species of rhino is found primarily in South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Kenya. In the 1900s, the population of black rhinoceroses began to decline due to hunting and habitat loss. However, the real damage occurred between 1960 and 1995, when large-scale poaching reduced the population by 98%.

    Rhino horns are highly prized in some parts of Asia, particularly China and Vietnam, where they are used in traditional medicine. Although it is illegal to buy or sell black rhinoceros horns internationally, a thriving black market exists—and for good reason. The prices for rhino horns are staggering; the horns can be worth more than their weight in gold.

    War and unrest have also contributed to the plight of the black rhinoceros. Valuable rhino horns can be traded for weapons. And the price of a rhino horn is tempting in areas where civil unrest has led to increased poverty. Additionally, during periods of war and unrest, conservation and enforcement of wildlife laws is often not a high governmental priority.

    A recent surge in the number of poached black rhinoceroses has led to new discussions about lifting the ban on trading rhino horns. Unlike elephant tusks, rhino horns are made of keratin, not bone, and will grow back after being cut off. In South Africa, it is actually legal to harvest rhino horns, though not to sell them. One argument for allowing legal trade in rhino horns is that doing so could flood the market and bring down prices, giving less incentive for poachers. But others argue that allowing the sale of horns would just make it easier for poachers to get their illegally obtained horns to the lucrative Asian markets.

    1. One idea to lower the incentive for poachers to kill black rhinoceroses is to legalize the sale of harvested horns to flood the market and bring down the price. Yet others worry that such a step could make it easier for poachers to sell their product. What steps could be taken to prevent poachers from selling their products if trade in rhino horns is legalized?

      Answers will vary. These steps might include close monitoring of product being traded, such as requiring permits or microchipping the horns.

    2. Conservation efforts are often concentrated in the area where the endangered animal lives. However, in the case of the black rhinoceros, much of the poaching is driven by the demand for rhino horn in a different part of the world. What steps could be taken in China and Vietnam to lower the demand for rhino horn?

      Answers will vary. One possible idea is for the governments of China and Vietnam to crack down on illegal sales of rhino horns. Another idea is to mount an education campaign to debunk some of the medicinal uses of the horns.

    3. The number of rhinoceroses being poached has risen significantly in recent years. What might be causing this?

      Answers will vary. A new use for rhino horn to treat cancer has become popular in China and Vietnam, and this might have caused a spike in demand. Another theory is that the increasing wealth in China and Vietnam has resulted in more disposable income to be spent on items made from rhino horns.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    ban Verb

    to prohibit, or not allow.

    black market Noun

    exchange of goods and services where taxes are not paid to the government, or services are illegal, such as drugs.

    endangered species Noun

    organism threatened with extinction.

    Encyclopedic Entry: endangered species
    habitat Noun

    environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

    Encyclopedic Entry: habitat
    keratin Noun

    sulfur-containing proteins that make up tissues such as horns, hair, wool, nails, and feathers.

    poach Verb

    to hunt, trap, or fish illegally.

    poacher Noun

    person who hunts or fishes illegally.

    population Noun

    total number of people or organisms in a particular area.

    poverty Noun

    status of having very little money or material goods.

    trade Noun

    buying, selling, or exchanging of goods and services.

    traditional Chinese medicine Noun

    system of medicine established approximately 2,200 years ago that strives to prevent or cure disease by maintaining or balancing a body's energy, or chi (qi).

    tusk Noun

    very long tooth found in animals like elephants and walruses.