Though banned for over 20 years as traditional medicine in China, rhino horn consumption has recently surged in countries such as Vietnam, where horn powder is marketed as a “cancer cure” to desperate cancer patients who lack access to adequate medical care. It’s also used as a non-traditional “recreational drug,” and hangover cure.

Despite these new uses, rhino horn has no unique medical properties and is primarily composed of keratin, the same protein found in human hair and fingernails.

Rhino poaching has surged in recent years following criminal syndicates’ efforts to stimulate consumer demand among newly wealthy consumers in Vietnam and mainland China. As a result, poaching in South Africa, where the majority of remaining rhinos live, has risen dramatically, from 333 in 2010 to 1,175 killed in 2015, predominantly in Kruger National Park.

The good news: In the past, efforts to educate people never to buy rhino horn have proven effective. During the last rhino poaching crisis, which ravaged Africa between 1970 and 1993, Taiwan, then the world’s largest consumer of rhino horn, banned the trade under pressure from the international community and strongly enforced that ban. Media coverage of the government’s action, combined with large public education campaigns, all but eradicated rhino horn use in Taiwan, resulting in negligible rhino poaching between 1994 and 2008.


For nearly a decade, global demand for ivory has fueled a poaching crisis in many African nations — decimating forest and bush elephants alike, leaving baby elephants without their mothers, and stripping local communities of desperately-needed tourism revenue. Meanwhile, militant groups and international criminal syndicates have profited from the ivory trade, creating regional instability and strife. An estimated 33,000 African elephants are killed every year for their tusks.

Elephants are primarily poached for their ivory, which comes from the tusks of all African and male Asian elephants, and is used for carvings, ornaments, jewelry, chopsticks and other crafts. While the use of ivory dates back hundreds of years, scientists believe ivory has been processed on an industrial scale in the last century to supply markets in the United States and Europe, and recently, Asia.

In 1976, the African elephant became a protected species under a special “appendix” of the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), one designed to control and limit trade. However, this system was subject to widespread abuse. During the 1980s, a decade referred to as the “Ivory Wars,” at least 700,000 elephants were slaughtered throughout Africa as legal trade enabled large-scale laundering of ivory from poached elephants.

In response to this crisis, in 1989 the international elephant ivory trade was banned (domestic ivory sales continued to be legal in some countries). Prohibiting international trade had a profound effect: Ivory prices plummeted, almost eliminating markets in the US and Europe. Poaching was greatly reduced, and elephant populations started to recover.

Sadly, the recovery didn’t last. By 2008, new markets emerged as business ties between Asia and Africa strengthened. Rapid economic growth in countries such as China created a new class of potential ivory consumers. As a result, rampant elephant poaching returned to Africa.

But in the past year alone, mounting alarm has led government officials, spurred by advocates like you, to take action.

In September 2015, US President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping of China agreed to take steps towards ending ivory sales in their respective nations. To be effective, this agreement also depends upon the closure of the Hong Kong market, which caters overwhelmingly to visitors from mainland China.

There is much work to be done, but the goal is in sight. Year of the Elephant is a trumpet call to action: We are here to ensure that promises are kept and elephants are saved. #JoinTheHerd