A century ago, more than 500,000 black rhinos roamed sub-Saharan Africa. Today, fewer than 5,000 remain. Why? Poaching, driven by the demand for rhino horn, is largely to blame.
Rhino horns - which are made of keratin, the same stuff as human fingernails - are sold primarily through black markets in China and Vietnam. Along with being a status symbol, the horns are falsely believed to possess healing properties. Partygoers grind it up then snort it, and others take it to "cure" everything from the common cold to cancer. Buyers will pay as much as $60,000 a kilogram for the powdered version, making rhino horn more expensive than cocaine, heroin, or gold.
Sales of the horns were banned in 1977 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES. Now CITES is considering reversing its stance due to pressure from groups in South Africa, which unsurprisingly include rhino farmers who argue that this radical and highly controversial move will actually help save the animals.