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Rhino Horn

Indian rhino 08.15.2012 buyer beware

Indian rhino

Rhino hornDuring another trip abroad you find yourself strolling down a narrow side street in Beijing. You stop in front of a teeny tiny pharmacy overflowing with mysterious-looking items and emanating unidentifiable odors. You are immediately intrigued and enter.

You point to a pile of waxy-looking round-shaped objects and ask the pharmacist what it is. Here's what he tells you: It is a cure that is made from rhino horn. For centuries, rhino horn has been used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to treat a wide variety of illnesses ranging from reducing fevers to stopping nosebleeds and preventing strokes.

You learn that rhino horn is processed into pills, tablets, treatments, and tonics and sold worldwide. What the practitioner doesn't tell you (and, sometimes they don't know) is that rhinos are extremely endangered, mostly due to illegal trade. Currently, fewer than 14,000 rhinos exist in the wild. If illegal trade is not snuffed out and rhino horn substitutes are not promoted by specialists as an acceptable alternative, it could mean certain extinction for some of the few species whose ancestors can be traced back to the dinosaur age.