There are currently five species of rhino; two African species (black, ‘Diceros bicornis’ and white, ‘Ceratotherium simum’ ), which can be found in south, central, east and west Africa, and three Asian species (greater one-horned, ‘Rhinoceros unicornis’ , Javan, ‘Rhinoceros sondaicus’ and Sumatran, ‘Dicerorhinus sumatrensis’), which are found in and south and southeast Asia.

Population numbers
(African species)
Black Rhino: 4,838 IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List Classification: Critically Endangered
White Rhino: Approx 20,000, up from fewer than 100 in 1900. IUCN Red List Classification: Near Threatened

(Asian species)
Greater one horned: 2,913. IUCN Red List Classification: Vulnerable
Javan: No more than 50. IUCN Red List Classification: Critically Endangered
Sumatran: Estimated to be around 250. IUCN Red List Classification: Critically Endangered
(Figures as of November 2011: www.iucnredlist.org)

All five species of rhino (except certain populations of southern white rhino) are listed on Appendix I of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and Annex A of the EC regulations implementing CITES in the EU, affording rhinos the highest level of protection. Despite these prohibitions however, excessive demand for rhino horn for Chinese and allied medicine systems as well as for decorative use means that poaching is one of the main threats to the survival of the species. [1]

Tragically, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) announced in October 2011 that the Javan rhinoceros in Vietnam is now extinct largely due to poaching, leaving only 50 remaining Javan rhinos, which are all in one national park in Indonesia. “The unfounded rumour that rhino horn can cure cancer most likely sealed the fate of the last Javan Rhino in Viet Nam,” Dr A. Christy Williams, WWF’s Asian rhino expert, said. “This same problem is now threatening other rhino populations across Africa and South Asia.” [2]

Indeed, according to Dr Joseph Okori, head of WWF's African Rhino Programme "The African rhino is under serious threat from poachers who have intensified their search of rhino for their horns since 2007, driven by growing market demands in Asia."

At the 2011 meeting of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), the President of the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine (ACTCM) and of the Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (CCAOM) released a statement opposing the use of rhino horn in medicines. “There is no evidence that rhino horn is an effective cure for cancer and this is not documented in TCM nor is it approved by the clinical research in traditional Chinese medicine.”  [3]

The Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine in the UK has also condemned the use of rhino horn [4] while a growing number of medical professionals have similarly spoken out publicly against the use of rhino horn as a medicine, including Dr. Albert Lim Kok Hooi, a leading consulting oncologist based in Malaysia. In an article on one of Malaysia’s most popular online news portals, The Star Online, he refuted claims made about rhino horn, pointing out that it has been scientifically tested and found to be of no medicinal value, and that the lingering cultural belief amongst a significant portion of the population in Asia in folkloric remedies and myths about the alleged magical powers of animal parts have no place in modern, science-based medicine. “The whole sad story of killing the rhino for its horn is not only criminal, it is cruel, immoral and unforgivably, without any scientific basis.” [5]

In spite of this, however, as of December 2009 poaching has been on a global increase, and efforts to protect the rhino are increasingly being regarded as ineffective. In South Africa officials are calling for urgent action against rhinoceros poaching after poachers killed the last female rhinoceros in the Krugersdorp Game Reserve near Johannesburg in October 2010. Statistics from South Africa National Parks show that more rhinos have been killed in South Africa in the past 10 months than were killed in all of 2010, with 362 animals lost to poaching so far in 2011, compared to a record total of 333 last year (as at 1 November 2011). [6]

According to a proposal prepared by the EU for the 2011 CITES meeting, the continued belief that rhino horn has medicinal properties is behind South Africa’s surge in rhino killing and the rise in prices paid for antique specimens, and the EU has recommended that consumer countries (China, Vietnam, Taiwan and Thailand were mentioned) take steps to curb the demand in rhino horn by educating citizens about rhino horn. Britain plans to launch awareness campaigns to debunk the notion that rhino horn contains medicinal properties; UK Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said recently “We will be leading global action to clamp down on this cruel and archaic trade, and to dispel the myths peddled to vulnerable people that drive demand for rhino products.” [7]

1. Foose, Thomas J. and van Strien, Nico (1997). Asian Rhinos – Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, and Cambridge, UK. ISBN 2-8317-0336-0.

2. www.wwf.org.uk/what_we_do/press_centre/

3. Source: Huang, L. “Statement opposing the use of rhino horn in medicines by the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.” (2011) CITES. Geneva, Switzerland.

4. www.rchm.co.uk

5.http://thestar.com.my/health/story.asp?file=%2F2010%2F9%2F19%2Fhealth%2F7049510&sec=health

6.http://www.uniteagainstpoaching.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=59&Itemid=77

7. www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14603905