The word rhinoceros means nose-horned’, which was driven from ‘rhis’, meaning ‘nose’, and ‘keras’, meaning ‘horn’), commonly abbreviated to rhino. The name rhino came from the two words thus, nose and horn. Rhinos are herbivorous, with small brains of about (400–600 g) for mammals of their size. They generally eat leafy material, although their ability to ferment food in their hind-gut allows them to subsist on more fibrous plant matter when necessary. The two African species (black and white) of rhinoceros lack teeth at the front of their mouths, relying instead on their lips to pluck food
About 150 years ago, Africa’s savanna’s teemed with over a million black and white rhinos. But relentless hunting by European settlers saw rhino numbers and distribution quickly decline. Poaching also escalated during the 1970’s and 1980’s as demand grew for rhino horn, a prized ingredient in traditional Asian medicines – leaving both species at risk.
To prevent poaching, in certain areas, rhinos have been tranquilized and their horns removed. Armed park rangers, particularly in South Africa, are also working on the front lines to combat poaching, sometimes killing poachers who are caught in the act.
The Rhino Rescue Project began a horn-trade control method consisting of infusing the horns of living rhinos with a mixture of a pink dye and an acaricide (to kill ticks) which is safe for rhinos but toxic to humans. The procedure also includes inserting three RFID identification chips and taking DNA samples.
Because of the fibrous nature of rhino horn, the pressurized dye infuses the interior of the horn but does not color the surface or affect rhino behavior. Depending on the quantity of horn a person consumes, experts believe the acaricide would cause nausea, stomach-ache, and diarrhea, and possibly convulsions. It would not be fatal—the primary deterrent is the knowledge that the treatment has been applied, communicated by signs posted at the refuges. The original idea grew out of research into the horn as a reservoir for one-time tick treatments, and experts selected an acaricide they think is safe for the rhino, woodpeckers, vultures, and other animals in the preserve’s ecosystem. Proponents claim that the dye cannot be removed from the horns, and remains visible on x-ray scanners even when the horn is ground to a fine powder.
However, most of the continent’s remaining rhinos are found in just four countries – South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya. Very few African rhinos now survive outside of protected areas and sanctuaries.
Rhinos have been around for millions of years and play a crucial role in their ecosystem. They’re important grazers, consuming large amounts of vegetation, which helps shape the African landscape. This benefits other animals and keeps a healthy balance within the ecosystem.
Local people also depend on the natural resources within rhino habitat for food, fuel and income. As one of Africa’s ‘big five’, rhinos are a popular sight for tourists. Ecotourism can be an important source of income for local people.