Since 2000, China has reportedly purchased 141 rare white rhinos from South Africa--an amount that has drawn the suspicion from conservationists that the animals aren't being used for friendly purposes. Instead, it is believed that the rhinos are being farmed on wildlife reserves for the sole purpose of collecting their horns, which are thought to have medicinal qualities in Asian tradition. Making matters worse, rhinos are among the most endangered species--with many populations facing near extinction.Rhino Horns Are Believed to be Medicine
According to The Times, the unusually high number of rhinos being imported to China is the subject of a report to be presented at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, meeting next weekend. At this point, there is no definitive evidence that the rhinos are being farmed for their horns, but wildlife monitoring groups are concerned at the increase in purchases of the animal by China.
Tom Milliken of Traffic told The Times:
The suspicion is that these rhinos are being aggregated into herds and farmed for their horns, which are valued for perceived medicinal value.
Rhino horns have long been considered an important medicine in Asian medicine, believed help combat diseases such as malaria, and even cure cancer. In reality, however, the horn in comprised mostly of keratin--a substance found in human hair and fingernails.
Rhinos Nearing Extinction After 50 Years of Poaching
Rhino poaching, often practiced to remove the animal's horn, has helped cause an extraordinary decline in populations throughout Africa and Asia--for example, there is thought to be about 130 Javan rhinos and only 300 Sumatran rhinos left in the wild.
White rhinos, the type being purchased by China, are estimated to number 17,500.
The Times reports that rhino horns are so sought after in Asia that even Vietnamese embassy officials "have been caught trying to smuggle horns back home." Again, however, the real purpose for the Chinese importation of rhinos is still unclear.
Mark Jones of Care for the Wild International:
We would like to know what China is doing with all the live rhinos it is importing from South Africa but the increased reports of rhino poaching, particularly in South Africa and Zimbabwe, are very worrying too.
More on Rhino Poaching
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Rhino Poaching Spikes, but there is Hope
Kenya Snares Gang of Rhino Poachers