National Geographic: The Rhino War


to the rhinoceros.

Instead, it is the demand for

the horn

Ironically, the very feature

of the animal that evolved for

its defense

may bring about its extinction

Though hard and strong like bone,

the horn is made of keratin,

like the

human fingernail.

It grows throughout the rhinos

life at a rate of about three

inches a year.

On a full grown adult,

it may reach over four feet.

For thousands of years,

rhino horn powder has been a

treasured commodity in

the far east.

Ancient oriental tradition

views it as an

effective fever reducer

and an indispensable cure all.

The use of rhino horn

as an aphrodisiac

has been greatly exaggerated,

and is found only in

parts of western India.

As early as the sixteenth

century, rhino horn powder

was recommended in a classic

encyclopedia of Chinese

medicine, tidily consulted today.

The best horn is from a

freshly killed male.

Black is better than white.

The tip has the most virtue.

Pregnant women should not take

the powder or they will miscarry.

Modern medicine considers the

claims highly unlikely,

and almost all far eastern

countries have officially

banned the importation of

rhino horn.

Still, the local market


In the back street of Taipei,

Bangkok, and other Asian cities,

African rhino horn retails

for up to $7,000 per pound.

For the past decade the export

of rhino horn has been banned

in most African countries,

but smuggling continues,

to the dismay of


Back in the 1970s

when there was very little

effort to control the trade,

the outlets were very diffuse

indeed-going out on aircraft

or boats and perhaps over land

as well.

But nowadays, I think that the

routes have become rather

more confined

and most countries seem to

point a finger at Burundi

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