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Poachers Now Targeting Baby Rhinos

Feb 24, 2015 04:50 PM EST
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Injured bull elephant treated by Zimbabwe conservationists

With rhino populations dwindling due to illegal hunting for their horns, poachers have now begun targeting vulnerable baby rhinos instead.

In 2014, a record 1,215 rhinos died from poaching - a 21 percent increase from the previous record high set the year before. As a result, several rhino subspecies are listed as "critically endangered" on the IUCN Red List, including black rhinos and Asia's Sumatran and Javan rhinos. One species in particular, the white rhino, will likely see extinction in the next several years as there are only five remaining, all in captivity.

Rhino horns are more valuable than gold, platinum and even cocaine, fetching as much as $5,550 an ounce on the black market. They are sold as traditional "medicine," despite the fact that there is no scientific evidence of their health benefits.

According to National Geographic, rhino horns can grow as much as three inches a year, and can reach lengths up to five feet long. They are used primarily by males to attack predators while females rely on them to protect their young.

And even though baby rhinos boast incredibly tiny horns nowhere near as big as those of adults, apparently for poachers, no rhino is too small of a target.

Bryce Clemence, a ranger with Anti-Poaching and Tracking Specialists, talked of one instance in Zimbabwe where poachers killed a 9-month-old and 3-year-old calf, devastating their black rhino mother, Diana.

"[The poachers] shot her calf," he told the South African Press Association. "Diana ran off with the other calf. [But] they found her with the little one, opened fire on both, and killed the little one. His horn was about 40 grams; there was hardly anything."

This goes to show how valuable these horns - which are merely made out of keratin, the same protein found in human fingernails - are in the illegal marketplace.

International trade in rhino horn has been banned under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora) since 1977, however, the heightened demand for these products has perpetuated poaching across Africa and Asia.

There are about 20,000 rhinos left in South Africa, but if poachers keep targeting defenseless baby calves, any hope of them reaching adulthood and boosting population numbers will be lost.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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