Ignorance and greed are threatening the rhinos not just in India but also in South Africa, where 80 per cent of the world’s rhinos now live. The ignorance proceeds from the myth that the animal’s horn is a cure for all kinds of ailments, ranging from fever to cancer. What is worse is the belief that the rhino horn made into powder is a powerful aphrodisiac. These beliefs are worse than old wives’ tales. Nonetheless, they drive a huge demand for the rhino horn. Most of this demand originates from China and other countries of Southeast Asia. The rhino horn has acquired the aura of a status symbol. The amount of money the rhino horn can bring is staggering. It is estimated that the horn of a rhino from Assam can fetch up to Rs 1 crore in the market. This has naturally encouraged poachers, and in the last few years, killing of rhinos has increased dramatically. According to available figures, till October last year, more than 450 rhinos had been killed. The Telegraph reported that not a month passed in 2012 when a rhino had not been killed in India. These are frightening statistics as they indicate that rhinos are vulnerable to extinction.
The sale and the possession of rhino horns are banned under international law. But the problem lies in the enforcement of the law. Policing of reserves that provide habitats for rhinos is weak and the animals occasionally stray outside the reserves, thus making themselves easy targets of poachers. Very few poachers are arrested and even a lesser number are actually prosecuted after arrest. Punishments, on the rare occasions when prosecutions occur, are not enough of deterrence. Many convicted poachers get away with only a rap on the knuckles. There is not enough awareness about rhinos and about how vital horns are for their survival. Like most animals when left alone by humans, rhinos are harmless creatures who, in spite of their size, keep to their patch and their business. Notwithstanding this, they are the targets of humans sometimes armed with sophisticated weapons, and air borne to boot. Better policing of rhino habitats and stringent and exemplary punishments of poachers are required. Smuggling across borders also needs stricter monitoring. At the same time, what is imperative is an increase in public awareness regarding the rhino and, more generally, about wild life and the environment.