Demand for rhino horn poses the greatest threat to the five remaining rhino species. While most live in sanctuaries under armed-guard protection, poachers are becoming more sophisticated in their slaughtering techniques, using helicopters, night-vision goggles, and high-powered firearms to take down their victims. They often strike under the cover of darkness to avoid being caught. The largest market for rhino horn is in Vietnam, a nation with burgeoning wealth and increasing health issues. Though there is no scientific evidence that rhino horn has any medicinal or aphrodisiac properties, people in Vietnam—and China—continue to use it to attempt to ease everything from hangovers to terminal illness. People in Yemen use rhino horn to make status-symbol dagger handles, despite there being other more sustainable materials to do the job.
Should we allow a 5,000-pound animal to be killed relentlessly for its 3-pound horn? Is it worth wiping out entire species? What is rhino horn made of to make it so “special” anyway? It is nothing more than compacted, continuously growing keratin, the same material as our hair and fingernails. No big mystery, no life-saving elixir. It is greed and misguided beliefs that are running these species into the ground. It must stop.
San Diego Zoo Global is working to save rhino species from extinction. The combined efforts of our animal care staff and conservation scientists have led to 92 southern white rhinos, 66 greater one-horned rhinos, and 13 black rhinos born at the Safari Park over the past 42 years, plus we've gathered eggs, sperm, and genetic material from rhinos that are stored in our Frozen Zoo. We collaborate with and support other organizations that patrol rhino habitat in the wild and combat poachers. In addition, providing visitors to our Zoo and Safari Park with indelible memories and up-close encounters with the animals themselves also inspires people to support our work and make a difference for these majestic animals.