On the Brink

The deadly rhino horn trade and the global network behind it

South Africa boasts the world’s largest concentration of rhinos. It’s also the world’s deadliest place for them. Rhino horns remain prized around the world, and the methods for extracting them can be barbaric. In many cases, hunters hack off a rhino’s face to retrieve its horn. The rate of killings has skyrocketed so much in recent years that some countries like Namibia have begun dehorning their rhinos to protect them from poachers.

In Episode 2 of Fusion’s new investigative series The Traffickers, correspondent Nelufar Hedayat looks at what’s driving the global network that is rhino horn. Her deep dives into the supply chain put her on the ground with poachers in Johannesburg, South Africa and buyers in Hanoi, Vietnam.

1. Rhino poaching is at a crisis point today.

In 2015, South Africa saw a slight decrease in poaching levels for the first time since 2007. Regardless, the year remained one of the worst for rhino killings. Within the last 40 years, an estimated 95% of the world’s black rhinos have been killed.

2. Rhinos have roamed the earth since prehistoric times, but few species survive today.

At their peak, they were the largest animal on land. Today, just five species of rhinos remain — including the Southern White Rhino.

3. Vietnam imports more rhino horn than any other country.

Growing demand for rhino horn in China and Vietnam has spurred illegal poaching of rhinos, but Vietnam today stands as the world’s largest recipient of the horns from South Africa.

4. Rhino horn has been prized in traditional Vietnamese medicine since ancient times.

Despite the lack of proven scientific evidence to support those claims, and even recent studies that debunk the medical benefits, rhino horn is seen as a cure-all in Vietnam. It’s made of the same protein found in fingernails, but many people still believe the myth that rhino horn can relieve fevers and hangovers, improve concentration, detox the body, and even cure cancer. Rhino horn is also touted as a party drug — with one popular drink calling for a mix of rhino horn and wine to make the “alcoholic drink of millionaires.”

5. South Africa has declared the protection of rhinos a “national priority.”

In South Africa’s game reserves like Kruger National Park, the first line of defense against poachers are rangers. In Kruger National Park, rangers use night vision equipment and helicopters to combat trespassers. This year, the first all-female anti-poaching team, the Black Mambas began patrolling the park as well.

6. Rhino horn might be the next gold rush.

Rhino horn is worth more in weight than other commodities like cocaine, diamonds and gold. Poachers can fetch upwards of $60,000 for rhino horn. That financial allure, combined with scarce opportunities in southern African nations like Mozambique, can attract young men in these communities where poachers often serve as role models.

Watch The Traffickers Sundays at 10 PM on Fusion.