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A recent spike in the illegal wildlife trade is threatening to undo years of work by NGOs and governments around the world to save endangered rhinos. A new video series released by WWF reveals some stark figures: in South Africa alone, rhino poaching has increased by an unbelievable 5000% since 2007. So far in 2013, 700 South African rhinos have been found slaughtered for their horns. Similar spikes in poaching are hitting rhinos throughout Africa and parts of Asia.
Image © Dhilung Kirat
It’s not just rhinos that are being affected by the increase in poaching. Because of the strong demand for their horns, many animals are now under the protection of rangers 24/7 — brave men and women who are literally putting their lives on the line every time they go to work. It’s become almost routine for poachers to murder rangers (and sometimes even threaten their families) in order to get to the rhinos they are fighting to protect.
So why the sudden spike in demand for rhino horns? The WWF points to Vietnam as the catalyst for the shift, where many people believe that rhino horn can be used to cure practically any ailment, from a hangover to terminal cancer. No medical study has ever proven the horn has any affect on health, because there’s nothing extraordinary about its composition. It’s made of keratin, the same fibrous protein that forms human hair and fingernails. In fact, doctors worry that using rhino horn as medicine could actually be harmful to health, preventing people with serious illnesses from seeking effective treatments until it’s too late.
Because of the alarming rate of decline in rhino populations, including one species of rhino that’s been recently declared extinct, some researchers are suggesting a radical solution: the legalization and regulationof the horn trade in South Africa. No matter what approach the country takes, something needs to change soon, or there may be no more rhinos to protect in a few years.
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