A Sad Day for Unicorns

Posted on November 10, 2011

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The last few weeks have delivered grim news indeed about the world’s beloved rhinoceros.

Today the annual update of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List was released declaring the western black rhino (Diceros bicornis longipes) extinct. Another rhino subspecies, the northern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum cottoni), is on the brink of extinction.1,2

Only last month the Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) was declaired extinct in Vietnam by WWF and the International Rhino Foundation. If verified, it means yet another extinction of an entire subspecies, this time Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus. Only one subspecies of Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus sondaicus) would then remain on the island of Java itself with a population of approximately 50 individuals. A faecal based genetic study carried out in Vietnam’s Cat Tien National Park during 2009-2010 discovered that only one individual remained. Soon after the study was conducted this last rhino was discovered having been shot in the leg and its horn removed. This is a scene that has been replayed many times.3

Poaching had seen record numbers of rhino being killed in recent years and with the value of horn exceeding that of gold it shows little sign of slowing down. The sad reality is that the rhino is caught in a vicious cycle; rhinos become increasingly rare – the price of horn increases – more poaching – rhinos become increasingly rare – the price of horn increases – more poaching…. Where rhinos remain in the wild they are largely afforded security but even then it isn’t fool proof.

By far the predominant poaching driver is the Asian medicine market and this is where the tragedy really hits home. Many still hold onto the belief that rhino horn medicine is a cure for a variety of ailments including cancer, arthritis, nose bleeds and fever but there is no evidence to substantiate such claims. Research has proven rhino horn is comprised of keratin. This may be a familiar word to some of you as it is the same material our hair and nails are made from. Therein lies the tragedy. Instead of supporting a market that is slowly obliterating an entire genus people could simply sprinkle some fingernails on their salad or mix some hair in with their spaghetti.4

In happier news the Greater One-horned Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) is up in numbers from 200 individuals in the 20th century to approximately 2600 today. Copyright Emma Thomas

  References

  1. “Another leap towards the barometer of life” – IUCN – http://www.iucnredlist.org/news/another-leap-towards-the-barometer-of-life
  2. “Western black rhino declared extinct” by Daniel Boettcher – BBC News –http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-15663982
  3. “WWF report confirms Javan rhino extinct in Vietnam” – WWF –http://www.wwf.org.uk/what_we_do/press_centre/?uNewsID=5367
  4. “Scientists crack rhino horn riddle” – Science Daily – http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/11/061106144951.htm
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