Australia Zoo is lucky enough to have 8 Southern White rhinos in our collection at the moment. Of that number we have a pair of adult females and their offspring, our amazing breeding male DJ and our two sweet younger boys Kei and Jabari. Each of these rhinos can be distinguished by the shape, thickness and length of their horn and this is an easy way to tell them apart.
Rhino horn is made of a protein called keratin which is the same key structural component of our own hair and fingernails. In the same way that hair and fingernails continue to grow throughout our lifetimes, rhino horn does the same. When a rhino is born there is no horn at all, and it only begins to erupt after a month or so. Our two little ones Mango and Winston already have cute little pointy horns which seem to grow a little bigger every day.
Unfortunately all rhino are under threat of extinction due to poaching for their horns. Although it's illegal to trade in rhino horn it's believed in some cultures to cure everything from a hangover to cancer and has therefore become a highly sought after product on the black market.
To date in 2013, 725 white rhino have been killed for their horn in South Africa alone – if poaching continues at this rate, white rhino will be close to extinction in just over ten years. The crazy thing is that there is no proven medicinal value whatsoever in rhino horn, you might as well take some fingernail clippings to cure that headache – a lot cheaper and just as useless!
Thankfully our herd will be safe from this threat forever and hopefully will serve as ambassadors for their wild cousins, looking how a rhino should look - with a majestic long horn.