When we talk about ivory, we often focus mostly on elephant ivory. While elephants are the main target for ivory, rhinos are being targeted with as much force, for their horns. But why? Rhino horn isn't as good a quality of ivory, so why are they so endangered? An interesting question, let's find out!
As I've stated before, ivory exists in a tooth form in animals. Sometimes it grows inside their mouth, like elk teeth, and sometimes it's an outward protrusion, like walrus and narwhal tusks, and rhino horns.
These outward teeth are used for poking, prodding and general roughhousing, but they serve another important function, especially for rhinos: digging.
Rhinos use their horns mostly for digging, whether it's to find water or simply uproot some yummy grub. So why have humans decided that these simply pieces are valuable?
Well, they're rumored to have special healing powers.
Just as ivory pieces were used for church worship in days gone by, so too have rhino horns been used for similar practices, but this time they're not for chanting but for healing. Various cultures and religions throughout time have incorporated crushed rhino horn into medicine. In fact, Chinese remedies for fever, hangovers, gout and liver problems used to contain crushed rhino horn, but although this trend has largely disappeared in China, it's exploded in Vietnam.
Because of a nationwide rumor that rhino horn cures cancer, Vietnamese citizens are snatching up rhino horn at an alarming rate. One horn can sell for over $100,000/kg, which is more than gold sells for in weight.
But perhaps the strangest fact is that rhino horn is made of the same material found in our fingernails, keratin. So even if these remedies worked, they could possibly be made using other products, instead of killing over 4,000 rhinos a year.
Kerry Skiff is a conservation advocate and recent journalism graduate of Northern Kentucky University. She follows the ivory trade around the world, and uses her voice to educate Americans about their role in animal conservation.