Rhino Wars

Rivaling the price of gold on the black market, rhino horn is at the center of a poaching battle.

Rhino Wars

Game scouts found this black rhino bull wandering Zimbabwe's Savé Valley Conservancy after poachers shot it several times and hacked off both its horns. Veterinarians had to euthanize the animal because its shattered shoulder couldn't support its weight. In the past six years poachers have killed more than a thousand African rhinos for their horns, which are smuggled to Asia for use in traditional medicines. Photograph by Brent Stirton.

Blindfolded and tranquilized, a black rhino is airlifted in a ten-minute helicopter ride from South Africa's Eastern Cape Province to a waiting truck that will deliver it to a new home some 900 miles away. Designed to extricate the animals gently from difficult terrain, the airlifts are part of an effort to relocate endangered black rhinos to areas better suited to increasing their numbers as well as their range. Photograph by Green Renaissance/WWF.

In a café in Vietnam, a woman grinds a piece of rhino horn. By adding a little water and rubbing the horn over the dish's sandpaper-like bottom, she creates a solution that many Asians believe is a super-vitamin and a cure for various maladies. Few scientific studies have been conducted on rhino horn's medicinal benefits, and the results have been inconclusive. Since taking it, she says, "I don't feel my kidney stones". Photograph by Brent Stirton.

An eight-pound rhino horn like this one can reap up to $360,000 on the black market. Photograph by Brent Stirton.

Australian Special Forces sniper Damien Mander teaches a class of game ranger trainees how to fire a shotgun at Nakavango game reserve in Zimbabwe. Photograph by Brent Stirton Former.

South African wildlife officials store horns collected from rhinos that died of natural causes in national and provincial parks, as well as horns seized from poachers. Photograph by Brent Stirton.

A white rhino calf romps with a juvenile in a game park holding pen in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal Province. Photograph by Brent Stirton.

A decomposing rhino with its horns cut off lies where it was strangled in a poacher's wire snare on a private game reserve not far from Kruger National Park in South Africa. Rangers staked out the site, but when the poacher didn't return, reserve officials removed the horns. Photograph by Brent Stirton.

Preparing a hunter's kill. After a hunt on a private game farm, a slab of rhino meat hangs in cold storage. Photograph by Brent Stirton.

Preparing a hunter's kill. Workers cure a white bull's hide with rock salt. Each year South Africa's parks sell off game animals, including rhinos, when populations exceed available resources. The proceeds fund conservation projects, and game farmers breed them for hunters and ecotourism. Conservationists credit the system for expanding rhino numbers during the past 20 years but say in recent years the system has been corrupted by rogue hunters and game farmers involved in the illegal horn trade. Photograph by Brent Stirton.

A white rhino cow (at left) grazes with a bull that has become her companion after a poaching attack in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa. Using a helicopter, a gang tracked her and her four-week-old calf, shot her with a tranquilizer dart, and cut off her horns with a chain saw. Rangers found her a week later, searching for her calf, which had died, probably of starvation and dehydration. Photograph by Brent Stirton.

Cutting off the horn to save the rhino. A veterinarian cuts the horns from an anesthetized white rhino cow at a game farm in North-West Province, South Africa. The procedure takes about 20 minutes. Composed of keratin—the protein that is the basis for wool, feathers, beaks, and hooves—the two horns grow back in about two years. Photograph by Brent Stirton.

Cutting off the horn to save the rhino. Some critics of dehorning say it leaves the animals unprotected against natural predators. Advocates argue that the absence of horns deters poachers and reduces the number of rhinos that die of wounds from fights over territory and mates. "An adult rhino packs such an awesome punch, even with a stub of a horn," says South African game farmer John Hume. "A lion is unlikely to tangle with one, horn or no horn." Photograph by Brent Stirton.

Cutting off the horn to save the rhino. The anesthetized rhino is left to wake in a field after the dehorning procedure. Photograph by Brent Stirton.

Dehorned to deter poachers, a tame northern white rhino, one of only seven of the subspecies known to survive, grazes under the watch of rangers from Kenya's Ol Pejeta Conservancy. Transferred along with three other northern whites from a zoo in the Czech Republic, the rhinos, which had not produced offspring in captivity, were brought to the wild in a last-ditch effort to breed them back from the brink of extinction. Photograph by Brent Stirton.

A rhinoceros stands on a hillside in KwaZulu-Natal Province. Photograph by Brent Stirton.

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