J is for Javan Rhinoceros
Some time ago I was Googling and was horrified by a photograph I saw of a rhinoceros with its horn hacked off – its face a gaping wound, it stood, a dejected, beaten animal. It had to be put down. I just have not been able to put the image out of my mind, it affected me greatly.
Javan rhinoceroses are possibly one of the most endangered animals on the planet. They used to have a huge territory, have recently become extinct in Vietnam, and now there are possibly only about 35 of them left surviving in a National Park in Java.
Rhinoceros horn, when polished, is a beautiful thing. It gleams all shades of honey, and in the past has been carved into ceremonial daggers, horn drinking vessels and beads. Nowadays ground rhino horn is so precious one horn can fetch millions of dollars and its price is more than that of gold.
It is still used in some Chinese medicine, although this practise is frowned upon and not as widespread as formerly. The ‘in’ thing at the moment is its use in Vietnam as a hangover cure – used in a drink the morning after to enable high-fliers, the VERY rich who can afford the price it commands, the ability to work the next day.
It does not work, except perhaps as a placebo – rhino horn is made of the same material as hair and fingernails. A proper hangover cure would be more effective, and Javan rhinos might still be alive in Vietnam as well.
Nevertheless this group are the largest consumers of rhino horn of all rhinos – and poaching is big business. The rhinos are shot, and their horn unceremoniously hacked from their faces.
It is also prized as a completely ineffective cancer cure.
Other threats include extinction due to natural causes (volcanoes near!), disease (there are so few), poaching, political disturbances and the lack of genetic diversity to keep such a small population healthy.
All material © Liz Brownlee
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