By Anne Outwater
Rhinoceros horn is worth more than platinum and gold. It is probably the most expensive raw material in the world. The rhino's horn is not a bone; it is made of keratin, the same substance as fingernails.
The fibers grow like hairs that have been pressed together. The horn grows at the rate of about 0.8 kilogrammes a year. Rhinos (Kiswahili - kifaru) use their horns when fighting. But it seems that many Chinese people believe the horn represents the sexual power of the rhino.
Male rhinos have a penis that is almost a meter long and the sexual act lasts thirty minutes to an hour. Scientists believe that the horn has no objective therapeutic effects. But in Malaysia, rhino horn is used to treat malaria, nausea, fever, heart conditions, dementia and toothache.
In China it is used as an aphrodisiac. In 1993, China banned the trade of rhino horns, but desire for the horn and its alleged powers is driving illegal trade involving the unsustainable killing of thousands of rhinos every year. Protecting such a valuable commodity has proven difficult.
Full time armed guards and antipoaching teams can be successful but success varies and it is dangerous; many deaths of poachers and rangers occur every year in Africa. Implantation of GPS tracking devices into the living rhino's horn is being tried.
Now people are trying the tactic of poisoning the horns of the living animal. According to Jo Anderson an environmental consultant based in Arusha who was recently visiting South Africa, "What is currently being implemented for rhinos, in the Greater Kruger ecosystem is dramatic," she explained: More....