The rhinoceros, an endangered animal
Rhinoceroses appeared on Earth around 40 million years ago spreading across Asia, Africa, Europe and North America, and shared the planet with humans for millennia, as can be seen from cave paintings portraying them, found in the Chauvet Cave in the South of France and dating from over 30 thousand years ago.
Today, five of the 30 original species of rhinoceroses remain, namely: the white rhino (Ceratotherium simum), black rhino (Diceros bicornis), Indian rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis), Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) and Javan or Sunda rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus). Black rhinos and white rhinos live in Africa, while the other three species live in Asia.
According to the IUCN (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) classification, that is the largest database on the state of conservation of animal and plant species all over the world, all 5 species of rhinos are threatened:
- White rhino: NT-Near Threatened
- Sumatran rhino: CR-Critically Endangered
- Black rhino (several subspecies): CR-Critically Endangered
- Javan rhino: CR-Critically Endangered
- Indian rhino: VU-Vulnerable
The chief threat to the existence of these large, placid-natured animals is poaching: these enormous herbivores are in fact hunted for their horns, which can be sold at exorbitant prices on the black market, over 90 thousand dollars per kilogram. Rhinoceros horns, for which the animals are mutilated and killed, are used mainly in traditional Asian medicine. It is thought, in fact, that it cures impotence and has numerous miraculous properties. Traditional Chinese medicine, for example, uses powdered rhinoceros horn to cure fever, epilepsy, malaria, poisoning and abscesses, making it a valuable commodity that encourages poaching even more. However, rhinoceros horn is composed of keratin, the same substance that forms our nails, and therefore any beneficial power attributed to it stems from popular belief, devoid of any scientific grounds.
In 1970 in Africa, there were over 70 thousand rhinoceroses, while today, according to estimates by the Save the Rhino association, only about 20,500 white rhinos and little more than 5,000 black rhinos still survive. If the mortality rate of these pachyderms does not decrease – reports state that one rhinoceros is killed every seven hours – rhinos in the wild may become extinct in less than 28 years.
One curious fact: rhinos spend most of their time grazing on grass and like to take long baths in mud holes, where they sometimes remain for up to 9 hours a day.