The year hasn’t even reached a close and already poachers have killed more rhinos is South Africa – home to 80 percent of the world’s rhino population – than in all of last year. Poachers have slaughtered nearly 700 rhinos in their relentless pursuit for the animal’s horns, which are wrongly believed to have strong healing powers. That number is even more shocking considering that in 2007 poachers only killed 13 rhinos throughout the entire year.
While the amount of killing taking place is troubling in itself, the fact that deaths have exceeded births this year particularly concerns researchers since the overall population is declining. A majority of the killings took place in Kruger National Park, with 425 deaths reported in that protected park alone. The total rhino population is estimated to number around 25,000, which means that the 688 rhinos killed so far this year represents nearly three percent of all rhinos.
Many people in Asian countries believe that rhino horns can heal everything from arthritis to food poisoning, which has created high demand for horns. But the horns are really just made out of the same material as fingernails and hair, namely protein keratin, which science has shown to have zero healing benefits. In fact, scientists say that chewing fingernails is just as effective as consuming rhino horns.