Populations are dwindling rapidly, pushing the species to the brink of extinction. In fact, the plight of the rhino is so dire that the South African government recently lifted a six-year moratorium on banning domestic rhino horn trade in what the government hopes will save some 20,000 southern white rhinos.
And while efforts on the part of federal agents and game conservationists, like Ivan Carter, host of Carter's War on the Outdoor Channel, are doing their best to end the black market sale of the rhino's parts, one is left to wonder: "are we too late to save the rhino?"
A recent Observer News article notes "Rampant poaching is estimated to drive the species into extinction in less than two decades. According to the South African government, 749 rhinos have been killed so far in 2015.
"Rhinoceros horns are in high demand on the black market in China and Vietnam — a kilogram can be worth up to $100,000 due to perceived medical benefits. Sales increased dramatically in 2008 after a rumor surfaced about a politician in Vietnam using the horn to cure cancer.
Since then, it has become a popular alternative to cancer treatment — in many cases, the need for medical care has rapidly outpaced the availability of medical experts in the country. The horn is also believed to cure hangovers and improve virility, and its expensive price has made it a symbol of social status in many countries.
"A 2014 study conducted by Dr. Enrico di Minin of the University of Helsinki in Finland estimated a legalized rhino horn trade could yield annual profits of $717 million. Advocates for lifting the ban in South Africa argue it would result in sustainable practices allowing game farms to harvest rhino horns, which would later grow back. Poachers, on the other hand, generally kill the rhinos to take the horn quickly. By lifting the ban, the South African government hopes to deter poaching and regulate trade."
In another recent article, author Jani Actman from National Geographic pointed to San-Francisco based start-up Pembient, who makes synthetic rhino horn as a possible solution. "Pembient hopes synthetic horn — priced at about one-eighth that of the reported $60,000-a-kilogram that genuine horn commands — will flood the market. Prices for the real thing would fall, goes the argument, curbing the economic incentive for poachers — and helping save rhinos in Africa."
But conservationists quickly attacked the company's idea "asserting that fake rhino horn won't solve the poaching problem and could even make it worse. They say that rhino horn powder-infused products could open more markets for illicit horn. The company is now focusing on supplying synthetic rhino horn for the carving market.
And so, the battle continues. Previous efforts by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents, while successful in stinging a few, have done little to stem the slaughter, which spans across multiple countries. Although a recent case in New York reported by the Associated Press in which an antiques dealer was sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to forfeit $1 million spurs hope that penalties in the U.S. for dealing in illicit rhino horn are growing stiffer.
Though vilified by anti-hunting groups, it may very well be hunters, like Corey Knowlton, who save the rhino in the end. Knowlton bid $350,000 to take a single black rhino on a controlled hunt sanctioned by the Namibian government several years ago.
According to Petersen's HUNTING, the Dallas Safari Club, who held the auction, "had backing from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to go forward with the auction with the express purpose of culling a "rogue" male from a herd in the Mangetti National Park. The bull targeted would be of advanced age, no longer capable of breeding and probably known to have killed or injured others in his group."
Sale of the permit raised money that went straight to rhino conservation.