There are many threats forcing the rhino to extinction, their precious horns the reason for their persecution. The horn has been prized for many centuries, used in ceremonial daggers and traditional Chinese medicine.
During the 1970's and 1980's the horn was in demand in Yemen. Here it was used in the production of ornamental handles for daggers. Using rhino horn in the creation of these handles was in no way a necessity and was done so to exude social class and the wealth of the wearer.
One of the most famous uses for rhino horn, however, is in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is still widely believed by those who practice it that ground up rhino horn is a cure-all remedy and can heal almost any form of ailment. This has been a belief held for thousands of years and has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of rhino. Yet it is a belief completely unfounded, with no proof rhino horn holds any such properties. During the 1960's and 1970's the world's largest importer of rhino horn was Hong Kong and in spite of a government ban in 1979 the trade continues.
Currently it is the Vietnamese appetite for rhino horn that is the driving force behind rhino poaching in Africa. While the South African and Vietnamese governments have been in talks to end the crisis, the export of rhino horn to Vietnam has shown no signs of slowing. If anything poaching is evolving, with a price tag of around $65,000, poacher's methods are growing increasingly extreme, operating now with military precision and utilising the likes of helicopters and night vision equipment to make the kill.
South Africa is a country perhaps most affected by the crisis, with rhino deaths rising significantly in previous years. As such poachers are being treated with far less leniency and the arrest rate has also risen, with 266 people arrested by the end of 2012. Along with this, U.S. military personnel and the adoption of military technology is currently being used to deter poaching. Re-education programmes and people of influence, such as retired NBA basketball player Yao Ming, a house hold name in China, are speaking out against poaching and attempting to change opinions.
Unfortunately, as the value of rhino horn increases so does the risk to the species. Their deaths are horrific, with many rhinos still alive while their horns are cut off. Their struggle is defined by human greed and ignorance, both of which govern a demand for something that possess none of the attributes it is thought to hold.