The rhino is a large grazing mammal that belongs to the family of rhinocerotidae. There exists five species namely: The great Indian rhino, Javan rhino, Sumatran or Asiatic rhino (found in south-central Asia), the African black rhino and the African white rhino (found in sub-saharan Africa). Characterized by one or more horns on the snout, the rhino have thick loose skin with little hair and stumpy powerful legs with tree toes on each foot. They generally have poor eyesight but a sharp sense of hearing and smell.
Rhinos usually inhabit savannahs, shrubby regions and dense forests. The African Species live in more open spaces the Asian Species. Access to water is paramount for the rhinos as they consume water daily.
Rhinos are known to sleep while either standing or lying down and love to wallow in muddy pools and sandy riverbeds. They have a unique way of marking their territory by dropping their dung in well defined piles than can reach up to 1 metre in height.
The gestation period of the rhino is between 420 and 570 days and they can live up to 50 years. The African rhinos are more aggressive than the Asian rhinos and use their horns to attack and toss their enemies. Known to possess a cumbersome motion, rhinos have a tendency to be active during the night while preferring to spend the day resting.
The rhino is in danger of extinction due to the value attached to its horn, which is made of keratin a protein found in human hair and nails. The horn from rhinos killed in East Africa usually ends up in Yemen where it is made into ornamental handles for daggers commonly known as Jambiyas. In the Far East, ground rhino horn is used for traditional medicine and it is believed to cure an array of ailments.
The international trade in black rhinos and their parts was banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) in 1977.
In Kenya, the black rhino population saw a major decline in the 1970s with a record population of 20,000 declining drastically to just fewer than 500 in the early 1980s.
Conservation efforts have seen the numbers of the Black rhino rise to 539 by the end of 2005, an increase from 428 in 2003.
Today, scientists are formulating a method of “fingerprinting” rhino horn based on the nutrient content of each specific rhino conservation area. This will enable them to pinpoint the area a rhino came from, its family group, and even its preferred diet. It is also an important step toward eradicating poaching, as scientists will be able to determine where a rhino was when it was killed.