Rhinoceroses are endangered and close to extinction due to loss of their natural habitats to expanding human settlement and agriculture, and especially because of poaching and illegal trade in rhinoceros horns. The horns are believed in Asian traditions to have aphrodisiac or healing properties. They have commanded a very high price for centuries, sometimes surpassing that of gold. Some Middle Eastern societies prize rhinoceros horn for dagger handles. Despite a ban on trade in rhinoceros parts under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 1976, populations declined by 90% over the next 20 years. Unless poaching is stopped, rhinoceros extinction in the wild is virtually inevitable. The poaching problem, exacerbated by poverty and political unrest in many areas, has turned into a war, and dozens of poachers and wildlife sanctuary guards have lost their lives. Aggressive captive breeding programs under way for most species have met with limited success.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.