As we head for the end of 2012 there seems to be so many things going on: Arbor Month; Women’s Month; and Heritage Day, to name a few.  Even though it has passed, the one I’d like to mention is Rhino Day.  The focus on rhinos is more about creating an awareness and emphasizing that now is the time to make an effort to protect our unique heritage, our wildlife.

There are a couple of different types of rhinoceros:

  • the Black – critically endangered,
  • Indian or Greater one-horned – vulnerable
  • Javan or Lesser one-horned – critically endangered possibly extinct,
  • Borneo – critically endangered possibly extinct,
  • Sumatran or Hairy – critically endangered, and
  • White or Square-lipped – threatened.
Black Rhino

A Black Rhino in the wild.

The Western African Black Rhino, the Northern White Rhino and the Vietnamese Javan Rhino are believed to be extinct.  I’ll be concentrating on the White and Black as they are the ones that occur in South African.  Rhinos are herbivores.  They can live for 30 – 45 yrs. Females reproduce only every 2½ – 5 yrs.  The mother will stay with her calf for between 2 and 4 yrs. The World Wildlife Fund classifies rhinoceros as critically endangered because of slow reproduction, habitat loss and poaching.

Essentially, rhino horns are made of keratin – similar to our own hair or finger nails.  Rhinos do in fact use their horns to dig for roots, and when desperate for water, rhinos dig in dry riverbeds to find an underground supply.  Female rhinos use their horns to steer their young and guide them until they are capable of navigating on their own. Male rhinos sometimes use their horns to move their excrement into piles that demarcate their territory.  One of the main uses of a rhino’s horn is posturing. A male rhinoceros reigns over a clearly defined territory and does not permit any other dominant males to enter his area. A rhinoceros will lower its head and charge to intimidate encroaching animals, including other rhinos. If intimidation does not prevent a fight, rhinos use their horns to defend themselves. The horns are sharp enough to gore through thick skin. Rhinos are quick runners, so charging is especially damaging.  The horn can also be an indicator of a strong mate.


9 out of 10 rhinos are believed to live in Southern Africa.  Rhinos have very few natural enemies – the biggest threat to their survival is the human being. Over the past few years, the drastic decline in population numbers has been fuelled by the illegal rhino horn trade, habitat loss and political conflict.   Some people believe ingesting the horns has health benefits, but the horns are really only beneficial to the rhinos itself.   The tragic reality is that this year, poachers are killing an average of a rhino every 15 hrs.  So it makes sense that the battle to save rhinos from extinction has South Africa at its epicenter.

Rhino horn is used for things like decorative dagger handles, but the main demand appears to be for traditional medicine, particularly in the Far East.  A huge factor influencing poachers is the minimum wage in areas that surround the national parks.  According to a recent article in the Getaway magazine, “at some point it’s so low that poaching becomes a survival issue.  No legal disincentive works when you have no money at all”.  Another facet of the demand for rhino horn is that it may be driven by speculators hedging against rhino extinction.

The impact of removing their horn on a rhinos behaviour is poorly understood.  Conservationists describe the 15-minute process of dehorning rhinos as simple as cutting fingernails, but there is some risk whenever anaesthesia is used.  Trendler explains that some poachers are prepared to remove any vestige of horns, even the small growth nubs on rhino calves, while revenge killing and killing to reduce the need to track have been reported on dehorned rhinos.  Dehorning is a last resort to save these animals lives.


Rhinos play a central role in the functioning of our ecosystems and removing them will have an adverse effect on various other plant and animal species.   They are an umbrella species, meaning that the strategies put in place to effectively conserve Rhino will automatically lead to the conservation of various other plants and animals.

If we are unsuccessful, they could go extinct in our lifetime.

In wildness is the preservation of the world. Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says… I’ll try again tomorrow. Mary Anne Radmacher-Hershey


If you would like to find out about our Academic Field Trips, please feel free to contact us, and visit our website: African Insight

Gwyn Fryer

Self-drive Consultant & Administration


087 940 3553


We used information from the following websites to write the article:







About Andrew Anderson

Managing Director: African Insight - Travel Experiences That Make A Difference African Insight - Explorations Tourism Concessionaire - Somkhanda Game Reserve
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