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With this animal, everything revolves around its horn. Its name is derived from the Greek ‘rhinos’, which means nose, and ‘keras’ horn, thus the horn on its nose.
Although the rhino can live for up to 45 years and has no natural predators, unless it is young, weak or injured, its horn has aroused the mortal interest of the worst enemy that it could ever find: man!
What is the rhino horn made of?
Keratine, which is also found in hair and nails. Rhino horns have been analysed to check if they do have special curative properties (Since it has long been known that, for example, the ingestion of hair does not bring any benefits to health), the result of these tests was logically negative.
Why is the rhino horn so much in demand?
There are as many answers to this question as there are uses by mankind. But in the end, the principle is always the same: whatever is rare is precious. A part of the horns taken by poachers is used to make knife handles or sculptures, which are sold for a fortune.
But the most common usage of the rhino horn is ‘therapeutic’, since in Chinese traditional medicine the horn powder or shavings are reputed to heal a number of significant ailments, even sexual impotence.
These troubles have exterminated entire rhino populations and have resulted in these species being today under threat of extinction. Their protectors have had no other choice but to cut the horns of the animals in order to protect them from poachers, but the horns re-grow every 2 or 3 years…
Let’s end this case file by discussing rhino reproduction, which will demonstrate their extreme fragility and the urgent need to protect them.
In order to be able to reproduce, young female rhinos must wait to be 5 years and males, 8 years. The female has a gestation period of 15 to 18 months, as it can only suckle one baby for about 2 years, and during this period, the mother cannot have another baby.
You can now understand why the loss of a single rhino weakens the entire species and it does not just consist of some individuals which have been killed for their horns, but tens of thousands.
Protection programmes which have been put in place too late (we should not have waited for a species to be on the verge of extinction before acting) have been slightly successful, but poachers are always on the chase and rhinos are always in danger.
Although there are men ready to spend fortunes to buy agglutinated hair (Another description of the rhino horn), no individual is fully protected.
Again, everything depends on man, the worst and – we hope – the better …
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It is often said that if you want to know someone, you need to find out about their family. Rhinos are full of surprises, because they are part of the ‘perissodactyls (odd-toed ungulates)’, which are mammals with an odd number of toes, and rhinos have three (as well as an additional, non-functional toe on their front paws).
Why is this surprising?
Because in this family you can also find horses and tapirs! But these are only very far cousins, since horses have only a single toe on each foot, while tapirs have four on their front paws and three on their back paws.
We all know of their massive build, consisting of a big body resting on short legs. This is the next biggest land animal after an elephant, as this herbivore can weigh more than 2 tonnes, measure more than 4 metres in length and more than 2 metres in height. It is short-sighted, but has an excellent sense of hearing and smell. It typically has thick, smooth skin, but the rhino is indeed unique because of its horn or horns, depending on the species.
In fact, this horn is the reason for many of its troubles, we will return to this topic later …
Where do rhinos live?
In our times, there are three species in Asia: the Java rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus), the Sumatra rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) and the Indian rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis), and two species in Africa: the black rhino (Diceros bicornis) and the white rhino (Ceratotherium simum).
But rural paintings attest to the presence of rhinos in Europe in the past, for example, the Chauvet grotto (Situated in Ardèche, France), which has paintings dating back to about 30,000 years.
Is there truly such a thing as a white rhino?
In fact, no-one has ever seen it! An explanation for this name is the poor translation of the South African name for this species – ‘wijdlip’ or ‘wijd-lip’ (Which would mean ‘wide lip’), the English had translated ‘wijd’ as ‘white’, and the rhino henceforth became white!
However, it must be pointed out that this theory is contested by certain scientists, particularly Kees Rookmaker.