Rhino term refers to the prehistoric beast that has inhabited the Earth for 60 million years. Baluchitherium grangeri is an extinct species of rhino that lived in Mongolia that is known as the largest land mammal that inhibited the earth. This species was without horn, 18 feet tall, 27 feet long, and weighed 25 tons. Its extinction was probably caused by climatic change.
Rhino has it links to the legendary unicorn. Marco Polo in 1298 described Sumatran rhinos as unicorns saying:
“There are wild elephants in the country, and numerous unicorns, which are very nearly as big. They have hair like that of a buffalo, feet like those of an elephant, and a horn in the middle of the forehead, which is black and very thick”.
The biological name of the black rhinoceros is Diceros bicornis which in Greek means: di, meaning "two" and ceros, meaning, "horn” and from Latin: bi, meaning "two" and cornis, meaning, "horn". That is rhinoceros is “horned nosed”. (Black Rhinoceros: Diceros bicornis) The black rhino myth have got its name so as to differentiate it from the white rhino Ceratotherium simum, which has a wider lip than the black rhino. But black rhinos are not really black rather they are gray.
An adult black rhino gets 14 feet long, 4.5 feet tall and weighs up to 3,900 pounds. The horn is made up of keratin fibers. A thick, wrinkled, tough hide covers it as it pushes its way through the thorny acacia trees and bushes it likes to eat. The black rhinoceros is differentiated by two large horns on its nose, the front one being the largest. They are extremely nearsighted; making the rhino dangerous and unpredictable, and likely to charge unfamiliar sounds and smells. Their sense of smell gives them information about their surroundings and helps them scent danger. The ears can swivel for the quietest sounds. Rhino's horn is not a true horn that is attached to the skull; rather it grows from the skin, where the keratin is compressed into the horn. Both sexes have identical double horns. (F. B. Salvadori, 1990)
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Rhinos habituate elevations of 8600 to 9300 ft in the mountains of East Africa. As they have avoided hot and wet regions, they have never penetrated the virgin rainforest of the Congo Basin or the forests of West Africa. They did not spread all over Africa. However, once their range extended to the southern tip of Angola to the West coast of Africa and all of East Africa, including Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia, and parts of Ethiopia, it extended between the Sahara Desert and the Congo and the virgin forest of Nigeria to Lake Chad and Cameroon.
There were also areas in which it did not live, like coast of Kenya and Tanzania and between Zambezi and Chobe Rivers. Due to European settlement in Africa, their population had been expunged from large parts of their former range, such as the region south of the Zambezi River, and completely vanished from the French colonies in Africa by 1930. Presently they are decreased to reserves in Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, Zambia, and South Africa.
Black rhinos are unpredictable and dangerous, and can move at speeds up to 40 miles per hour for short distances. Like horses, rhinos run and walk on their toes. The black rhino is solitary animal and come together only to mate. Black rhinos feed morning and evening and sleep in the shade or in a wallow during the hot part of the day. Breeding occurs throughout the year and the females gestate for over a year, and the time between calves is generally 2½ to 3½ years.
According to the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania estimation the black rhino’s population has declined from 100,000 in 1970 to less than 3,000 in Africa and in 1992 they were under 2,500. At present only 2,000 black rhinos are left in all of Africa and the peril still continues. Zimbabwe was once the stronghold for the black rhino, but by the mid-1980s it too faced a sever decline in the black rhino population.
It is estimated that 90% of adult rhino die due to poaching. The main cause of the black rhino killing is poaching for horns. In the black market it is sold for up to $1500. It is basically used in Asian Folk medicine and for ceremonial dagger handles in North Yemen, which is the biggest market. (The American Museum of Natural History, 1996)
Centuries ago the powder made from these horns were sold in East Asiatic pharmacies at a high price. At that time the rhinoceros were an easy kill. They have been poached ever since. It has been said that the medium-size horn of a great Indian rhinoceros literally is worth its weight in gold. The strong faith in the healing powers of these horns increased the prices constantly. These horns were once used to treat rheumatism and as a traditional aphrodisiac. Rhino horn has been clinically tested and proven to be effective in reducing fever.
Various measures have been taken so as to conserve the population of black rhino before it extinct. These measures are briefly described below:
All trade in rhino horn is prohibited under Appendix I of CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species). However, the restriction has not been successful. (Appendix 1 of CITES)
Conservatories have been built for the black rhino protection, like parks and reserves that provide habitat for elephants in Africa. But, that too proved less of use.
Dehorning has been very effective in conserving and discouraging the very reason for which black rhino was poached.
Conservation of black rhinos through captive breeding is taking place under the Species Survival Plans (SSP) in the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, Los Angeles Save Valley, Bubiana, Chidredzi River and Malilangwe. The rhinos bred in these conservancies for restocking other areas where poachers have already wiped them out. (Michael De Alessi, 2000)
International pressures have been applied to importer countries like China and Taiwan to control the illegal importation and subsequent sale of rhino products. As a result the largest importer Yemen, has agreed to stop importing rhino horn. Alternative medicines are being promoted in countries where these hors are used for medicinal purposes, which hopefully might decrease the value of horns.
The Endangered Species Protection Unit is established that investigates illegal activities, such as poaching and trading relating to endangered species, including rhino. TRAFFIC (Trade Records Analysis of Flora and Fauna in Commerce) office is established in South Africa, whose aim is the conservation of wildlife by monitoring and reporting on trade in wild animals and plants. (Europe Environment, 1993)
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