Historically, rhino horn and tiger bone were used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat various illnesses, despite the lack of any evidence of their effectiveness. In fact, rhino horn is simply keratin, a protein that is found in human fingernails and hair. Rhino horn is used to treat everything from cancer to gout in traditional Chinese medicine. Similarly, a paste made from crushed tiger bone is thought to treat a variety of ailments, including rheumatism and back pain.
A South African court recently overturned a national ban on the trade of rhinoceros horns – a decision that was celebrated by the country’s commercial rhino breeders but slammed by animal preservation groups. A moratorium on rhino horn trade had been in effect in South Africa since 2009.
At the beginning of the 20th century, there were about 500,000 rhinos across Africa and Asia. By 1970, the number was down to 70,000. Today, there are less than 30,000 rhinos in the wild. The number of black rhinos dropped to as low as 2,300 in 1993. Aggressive conservation efforts have brought their numbers up to over 5,000 today.