At the cost of about $500 per rhinoceros, conservationists are trying to save the species from poachers who kill rhinos for their horns. What these saviors do may surprise you.
Rhino horns were ground and used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years to treat many ailments, but now the horns are mostly displayed whole in people's homes throughout Asia as a symbol of wealth. Their cost and their worth is said to be higher than the price of gold, now estimated to be $100,000 per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of rhino horn.
Though trading in rhino horns and tiger bones were banned in China since 1993, poacher trade went on regardless, not only in China, but in other Asian countries as well. Recently, China has watered down these laws, which will have, no doubt, an even more devastating impact on the rhino population, now one of the most endangered populations in the animal world.
With great care and expertise, organizations like Project Rhino are saving rhinos from certain death by cutting off their horns before poachers kill the animals. This may seem like a drastic measure, but other measures, such as protecting an African rhino crash (a herd) with armed guards, are more costly and less effective in the long run.
Though the process of removing a rhino's horns is arduous, it does not hurt the animal. Wildlife veterinarians compare the process to cutting one's fingernails. The rhino horn is made of the same protein as fingernails: keratin.
Rhino saviors are led by experienced wildlife veterinarians. A practiced helicopter pilot aerially locates rhino "crashes," disperses them, and then aerially anesthetizes one rhino before a ground crew saws off its horn. Then the crew takes off before the rhino wakes up. This process is repeated until each member of the crash has had its horns removed; that way no rhinos have an advantage over the others.
The video below, by Project Rhino, demonstrates how de-horning is practiced by Project Rhino.
It is estimated that rhino deaths due to poaching amount to about 1,000 rhinos per year. Fortunately, Project Rhino and other organizations are taking steps to keep the rhino alive and well. Volunteers and donations are welcome!