The Composition and Significance of Rhino Horns
The rhinoceros is easily recognizable by its distinctive horn, which is the reason why it is called “rhinoceros” in Greek, meaning “nose” and “horn.” Despite its remarkable size and strength, the horn’s primary component is keratin, the same protein that makes up human hair and nails.
Composition of the Horn
Unlike other horned animals that possess a bony core encased in keratin, researchers at Ohio University have discovered that rhinoceroses have only mineral deposits of calcium and melanin at the core of their horns, which are more comparable to hooves and beaks. The horns are honed in the same way as a pencil, as confirmed by the same study. Changes in rhino horn keratin composition, caused by diet and geographical location, can be used similarly to fingerprinting to identify the animals, enabling scientists like Raj Amin from the Zoological Society of London to determine the population a rhinoceros belongs to. This information is beneficial to law enforcement authorities in combating illegal poaching.
The rhino horn was previously believed to possess medicinal properties, including the ability to halt nosebleeds and headaches, cure diphtheria and food poisoning, and boost libido. Nevertheless, research conducted by Swiss pharmaceutical company Hoffmann-La Roche and the Zoological Society of London has debunked claims that rhino keratin has any effect on the human body, and using the horns for medicinal purposes has been illegal since 1993.
Poaching and the Trade of Rhino Horns
Despite being an endangered species that is protected by law, rhinoceroses are still being hunted illegally because of the high value of their horns. As of 2010, rhino horns were being sold for $21,000 to $54,000 per two pounds on the black market.