Africa’s rhinos are in at a tipping point. Record numbers are being brutally attacked and killed for their horns even though there’s no evidence that it contains any medical properties. 

The black rhino is critically endangered

In the 1970s there were about 70,000 black rhino in Africa

Between 1970 and 1990 numbers plummeted to fewer than 2,500 

Today, there are around 4,200 black rhinos left in the wild

At these rates, the numbers of black rhino poached exceed the numbers being born. The species could go extinct by 2024.

THE truth about POACHING

South Africa and Kenya now have the highest levels of poaching. In 2013, 95% of poaching occurred in these two countries. 

In South Africa, poachers kill on average three rhinos per day – or about 100 per month – to feed the demand for horn on the black market. Nearly two-thirds of rhinos poached in South Africa in 2014 were killed in Kruger National Park.

Source: WWF

Fuelled by demand from increasingly wealthy middle classes in China and Vietnam, rhino horn is illegally traded on the black market for its alleged medicinal properties. It’s believed the trade generates

On the black market, horn sells for about $65,000 per kilo, making it one of the most valuable natural commodities on earth, worth more than gold. This demand drives record poaching rates.

Yet scientific studies have proved that rhino horn has no medical properties. Therefore it is of no use to anyone except the rhino.


What is rhino horn?

What does rhino poaching involve?

Poachers often hunt rhinos during a full moon when it is easier to see at night


Because rhinos use watering holes daily, they are an easy and predictable target

Some rhinos are so habituated to people they don’t even run away from poachers

What weapons are used by poachers?

heavy calibre weapons

About 70% of all poached African rhinos are killed by gunshot. Poachers shoot the rhino with the intention of killing, wounding or stunning it enough to remove its horns with axes or chainsaws

ak-47 assault rifles

Poachers not only carry heavy calibre weapons and silencers to shoot rhinos, they also carry AK-47 assault rifles and grenades in case of a confrontation with an anti-poaching defence force 

veterinary DRUGS

Some poachers now use veterinary drugs to immobilise, but not kill, rhinos while they hack off their horns. Poachers dont administer the antidote, so if the rhinos wake up, they die a slow and painful death

How is the rhino’s horn removed?

Poaching gangs are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Helicopters and night-vision goggles are used to hunt down the rhinos. 

Once a rhino is immobilised, its horns are removed using axes or chainsaws, and quickly airlifted away. The whole operation can take as little as 10 minutes. If the rhino isnt already dead, it will be left to bleed to death

When trying to remove a horn, poachers’ machetes cut deeply into the rhino’s face. They remove not only the horns but the underlying bone, and expose the nasal sinuses and airways, shredding muscles, nerves and blood vessels

Despite the terrible wounds to their faces, sometimes rhinos don’t die instantly. With emergency veterinary care they may survive the attack only to die later from muscle damage caused by lying on one side, immobilised, for so long



Former military personnel, police officers and game scouts, will all have received specialised training in tracking or shooting

Wildlife industry

Since 2008, a small number of ranch owners, hunters, game capture operators, pilots and vets have become involved in poaching

trophy hunters

Organised trophy hunts on game farms are commonly used as a cover for securing and smuggling rhino horns to black markets in Asia

criminal syndicates

International crime syndicates involved in terrorism, human trafficking and selling drugs, arms and ammunition

If caught, poachers in Botswana can expect to receive heavy sentences of 15 years in prison and a fine of 100,000 pula for the illegal killing of a rhino. Elsewhere in southern Africa, poachers might only receive three or four years for trespass or the illegal possession of firearms. Thus, this sends a clear message that the Botswanan government will not tolerate attacks on its wildlife.


It can take as little as 48 hours for a poached rhino horn to get from the killing ground to the global market. 

It is widely believed that rhinos are poached to order. Once a suitable rhino has been tracked down, it can take poachers as little as 10 mins to immobilise it and hack off its horn

Most rhinos are poached in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Their horns are passed to a courier who smuggles them by road, hidden inside carpets or furniture, to a coastal port and then onto a ship to Asia

Other rhino horns are driven to an airport and flown to Vietnam hidden inside a suitcase. Smuggled into the country, they are received by illegal rhino horn dealers and moved swiftly onwards

Within just 48 hours of a horn being brutally hacked off a rhino’s face, it could be for sale – illegally – on a traditional medicine market stall in Hanoi. At current prices, it is worth more than gold


The primary market for rhino horn is East Asia, where it is sought after as an ingredient in remedies for various illnesses. Prime markets include Vietnam, China and Yemen.

BUT There is no scientific evidence that rhino horn has any medicinal value. medically, it has the same effects as chewing your own fingernails.

the journey of a rhino horn



Vietnam has recently become the main driver of the illegal trade in rhino horn.

Over the past decade, rapid economic growth, increasing levels of disposable income and lax government policy have awakened the trade in rhino horn.

Rhino horn has become a symbol of status and wealth.

Taken as a tonic and a powder, it is believed to help cure everything from a hangover to life-threatening diseases such as cancer.

The smuggling and distribution of rhino horn is now believed to be the work of Vietnamese syndicates, among others.


The ornamental use of rhino horn dates back to at least the 7th century.

Over the centuries, rhino horns have been carved into ceremonial cups, buttons, belt buckles, hair pins and paperweights.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the horn is shaved or ground into a powder and dissolved in boiling water.

It is used to treat fever, rheumatism, gout and other disorders.


During the 1970s, 40% of African rhino horn ended up in north Yemen. 

Here, rhino horn was used to make the handles of curved daggers called ‘jambiya’, which are presented to Yemeni boys at the age of 12.

The jambiya is worn by men as a token of their manhood and as a symbol of their wealth and social status. 

The Yemeni government has since placed a ban on the trade in rhino horn. Today jambiya makers use bone instead of horn.

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