Did you know that rhino horns cost as much as gold on the black market?

People grind up the horns and then consume them believing the dust has therapeutic properties. The horns are made of keratin, the same type of protein that makes up hair and fingernails.


Rhinoceros are killed by humans for their horns, which are bought and sold on the black market, and which are used by some cultures for ornamental ortraditional medicinal purposes. East Asia, specifically Vietnam, is the largest market for rhino horns.

Members of the rhinoceros family are characterized by their large size as well as by an herbivorous diet; a thick protective skin, 1.5–5 cm thick, relatively small brains and a large horn. 

They generally eat leafy material. Unlike other perissodactyls, the two African species of rhinoceros lack teeth at the front of their mouths, relying instead on their powerful premolar and molar teeth to grind up plant food.


Currently, there are five existing species listed as below:

1) White rhinoceros

There are two subspecies of white rhino: the southern white rhinoceros and the northern white rhinoceros.

In 2007, the southern subspecies had a wild population of 17,480 (IUCN2008) – 16,266 of which were in South Africa – making them the most abundant rhino subspecies in the world.

White Rhinoceros 
Photo: The White Rhinoceros

The white rhino has an immense body and large head, a short neck and broad chest. This rhino can exceed 3,500 kg, have a head-and-body length of 3.5–4.6 m and a shoulder height of 1.8–2 m. The record-sized white rhinoceros was about 4,500 kg .

On its snout it has two horns. The front horn is larger than the other horn and averages 90 cm in length and can reach 150 cm.

The white rhinoceros also has a prominent muscular hump that supports its relatively large head. The colour of this animal can range from yellowish brown to slate grey.

Most of its body hair is found on the ear fringes and tail bristles, with the rest distributed rather sparsely over the rest of the body. White rhinos have the distinctive flat broad mouth that is used for grazing.


2) Black rhinoceros

The name black rhinoceros was chosen to distinguish this species from the white rhinoceros. This can be confusing, as the two species are not really distinguishable by color.

African Rhino Male and Calf Mkhuze

There are four subspecies of black rhino:

(i) South-central, the most numerous, which once ranged from central Tanzania south through Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique to northern and eastern South Africa;

(ii) South-western  which are better adapted to the arid and semi-arid savannas of Namibia, southern Angola, western Botswana and western South Africa;

(iii) East African, primarily in Tanzania; and

(iv) West African which was declared extinct in November 2011. The native Tswanan name keitloadescribes a South African variation of the black rhino in which the posterior horn is equal to or longer than the anterior horn.


Photo: The Black Rhinoceros

An adult black rhinoceros stands 1.50–1.75 m  high at the shoulder and is 3.5–3.9 m in length.  An adult weighs from 850 to 1,600 kg, exceptionally to 1,800 kg, with the females being smaller than the males.

Two horns on the skull are made of keratin with the larger front horn typically 50 cm long, exceptionally up to 140 cm. Sometimes, a third smaller horn may develop.

The black rhino is much smaller than the white rhino, and has a pointed mouth, which it uses to grasp leaves and twigs when feeding.

During the latter half of the 20th century their numbers were severely reduced from an estimated 70,000 in the late 1960s to only 2,410 in 1995.


3) Indian rhinoceros

The Indian rhinoceros, or greater one-horned rhinoceros, has a single horn 20 to 100 cm long.

Its size is comparable to that of the white rhino in Africa. Its thick, silver-brown skin forms huge folds all over its body. Its upper legs and shoulders are covered in wart-like bumps, and it has very little body hair.

Grown males are larger than females in the wild, weighing from 2,500–3,200 kg. Shoulder height is 1.75–2.0 m. Females weigh about 1,900 kg and are 3–4 m long. The record-sized specimen was approximately 3,800 kg.

The Indian Rhino 
Photo: The Indian Rhinoceros (single horn)

Indian rhinos once inhabited many areas ranging from Pakistan to Burma and maybe even parts of China.

However, because of human influence, they now only exist in several protected areas of India (in Assam, West Bengal, and a few pairs in Uttar Pradesh) and Nepal, plus a few pairs in Lal Suhanra National Park in Pakistan.

It is confined to the tall grasslands and forests in the foothills of the Himalayas. Two-thirds of the world’s Indian rhinoceroses are now confined to the Kaziranga National Park situated in the Golaghat district of Assam, India.


4) Javan rhinoceros

The Javan rhinoceros is one of the most endangered large mammals in the world. According to 2002 estimates, only about 60 remain, in Java (Indonesia) and Vietnam. It is also the least known rhino species.

Javan Rhino
Photo: The Javan Rhinoceros (single horn)

Like the closely related, and larger, Indian rhinoceros, the Javan rhino has a single horn. Its hairless, hazy gray skin falls into folds into the shoulder, back, and rump, giving it an armored appearance.

Its length reaches 3.1–3.2 m including the head, and its height 1.5–1.7 m.Adults are variously reported to weigh 900–1,400 kg  or 1,360–2,000 kg. 

Male horns can reach 26 cm in length, while in females they are knobs or altogether absent. These animals prefer dense lowland rain forest, tall grass and reed beds that are plentiful with large floodplains and mud wallows.

Though once widespread throughout Asia, by the 1930s they were nearly hunted to extinction in Nepal, India, Burma, Peninsular Malaysia, and Sumatra for the supposed medical powers of their horns and blood.

As of 2009, only 40 remain in Ujung Kulon Conservation, Java, Indonesia. The last rhino in Vietnam was reportedly killed in 2010. 


5) Sumatran rhinoceros

The Sumatran rhinoceros  is the smallest extant rhinoceros species, as well as the one with the most hair. It can be found at very high altitudes in Borneo and Sumatra.

Photo: The Sumatran rhinoceros 

Due to habitat loss and poaching, its numbers have declined and it is the most threatened rhinoceros. About 275 Sumatran rhinos are believed to remain.

A mature rhino typically stands about 1.3 m high at the shoulder, has a length of 2.4–3.2 m and weighs around 700 kg, though the largest individuals have been known to weigh as much as 1,000 kilograms. Like the African species, it has two horns; the larger is the front (25–79 cm), with the smaller usually less than 10 cm long. Males have much larger horns than the females.

Hair can range from dense (the densest hair in young calves) to scarce. The color of these rhinos is reddish brown. The body is short and has stubby legs. The lip is prehensile.

Sumatran rhinoceros are on the verge of extinction due to loss of habitat and illegal hunting. Once they were spread across South-east Asia, but now they are confined to several parts of Indonesia and Malaysia due to reproductive isolation. There were 320 of Dicerorhinus sumatrensis in 1995 and in 2011 they have dwindle down to 216.


rhi cry

Photo: Heartbreaking Picture of Rhino being saw out from its horn alive

rhi h 

Photo: Horns being saw out

Photo: Memorial to rhinos killed by poachers near St Lucia Estuary, South Africa


Rhinoceros horns, unlike those of other horned mammals only consist of keratin. Rhinoceros horns are used in traditional Asian medicine, and for dagger handles in Yemen and Oman. Esmond Bradley Martin has reported on the trade for dagger handles in Yemen. 

One repeated misconception is that rhinoceros horn in powdered form is used as an aphrodisiac in Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM) as Cornu Rhinoceri Asiatici (犀角, xījiǎo, “rhinoceros horn”). In fact, it is prescribed for fevers and convulsions. 

Neither have been proven by evidence-based medicine. Discussions with TCM practitioners to reduce its use have met with mixed results because some TCM doctors consider rhino horn a life-saving medicine of better quality than substitutes. 

China has signed the CITES treaty and removed rhinoceros horn from the Chinese medicine pharmacopeia, administered by the Ministry of Health, in 1993. In 2011, in the United Kingdom, the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine issued a formal statement condemning the use of rhinoceros horn. A growing number of TCM educators have also spoken out against the practice. 

To prevent poaching, in certain areas, rhinos have been tranquilized and their horns removed. Armed park rangers, particularly in South Africa, are also working on the front lines to combat poaching, sometimes killing poachers who are caught in the act.


A recent spike in rhino killings has made conservationists concerned about the future of the species. During 2011, 448 rhino were killed for their horn in South Africa alone. 

The horn is incredibly valuable: an average sized horn can bring in as much as a quarter of a million dollars in Vietnam and many rhino range states have stockpiles of rhino horn. 

Still, poaching is hitting record levels due to demands from China and Vietnam.  In March 2013, some researchers suggested that the only way to reduce poaching would be to establish a regulated trade based on humane and renewable harvesting from live rhinos.


Save the Rhinoceros, YOU can make a difference!

Join us as ONE VOICE to:

Reduce demand for illegal wildlife parts and products by encouraging others to ask questions and get the facts before buying any wildlife or plant product.

Push governments to protect threatened animal populations by increasing law enforcement, imposing strict deterrents, reducing demand for endangered species products.

Speak up on behalf of those on the frontlines being threatened by armed poachers so they are properly equipped, trained and compensated.