5 startling statistics about rhinos

September 22, 2017, 12:10 p.m.
A black rhino mother and calf.
Photo: Bartosz Budrewicz/Shutterstock

1. Rhinos have been on Earth for around 50 million years. In that time, species in the rhino family have roamed across not only Africa and Asia but also Europe and North America. There was even a rhino species we dubbed the Giant Unicorn, which grew up to 20 feet in length and had a horn that reached 7 feet long!

2. Some 500,000 rhinos could be found across Asia and Africa just one century ago. But since the beginning of the 20th century, their numbers have fallen precipitously. There were just 70,000 by 1970 and a mere 29,000 in the wild today.

3. The price for rhino horn is extremely high — so high, in fact, that Save the Rhino asks journalists not to publicize it. Although the price is widely reported anyway, many conservationists worry this publicity can encourage more criminals to enter the rhino-horn trade and stimulate more consumer demand. And regardless of the specific price for a kilogram of rhino horn, it's worth noting that all this fuss is about keratin — a product that's the exact same material as horse hooves, cockatoo beaks, and even our hair and fingernails. Yes, you can get the basically the same thing for free every time you trim your nails or get a hair cut.

Why the high price? Primarily rhino horn is used in traditional Chinese medicine, however there's no scientific proof that rhino horn has any medicinal value. According to PBS:

"Overall there isn’t much evidence to support the plethora of claims about the healing properties of the horns. In 1990, researchers at Chinese University in Hong Kong found that large doses of rhino horn extract could slightly lower fever in rats (as could extracts from Saiga antelope and water buffalo horn), but the concentration of horn given by a traditional Chinese medicine specialist are many, many times lower than used in those experiments. In short, says Amin, you’d do just as well chewing on your fingernails."

4. If poaching levels continue as they are going, wild rhinos could disappear within the next 20 years. This would be not only a devastating blow to the world as a whole, but also to many national economies, which could continue to make money from rhinos through eco-tourism and photo safaris. Rhinos, like so many big fauna, are worth far more alive than dead over the course of their long lifetimes, both through the ecological benefits they provide to their habitats as well as through the thousands upon thousands of dollars tourists are willing to pay to see a rhino grazing peacefully in the wild.

5. South Africa is home to 74 percent of the continent's remaining rhino population, according to Stop Rhino Poaching, yet more than 6,100 rhinos have been poached in that country in the last nine years. "This poaching is by no means isolated to South Africa; rhino poaching is surging across the entire African continent, and is a constant threat to the smaller rhino populations in Asia," according to Save the Rhino. "Other rhino states do not regularly publish poaching statistics, however updates are available in news reports and press releases."

How has rhino poaching grown over the last several years? That might be the most startling stat of all. Here's a recent graphic from the South African Department of Environmental Affairs:

This graphic shows the frightening rise in rhino poaching in South Africa. This graphic shows the frightening rise in rhino poaching in South Africa. (Image: South African Department of Environmental Affairs/Save The Rhinos)

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Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in September 2015.