Rhinoceroses and rhinoceros products are in use for medical purpose in many countries across the Indian ocean. Stories about this animal were gathered and written by students. They are all part of a pedagogical project, funded by the National University of Singapore and the Université de Paris. The Bestiary site is a work-in-progress and a participatory educational tool, representing animals whose products or body parts are used to promote health and healing.


A Story by De Silva Yvonette Shayne

The rhinoceros is one of the five or six species of giant horn-bearing herbivores, roaming the land. The rhinoceros are a critically endangered species, with approximately 27,000 left roaming the Earth. This was a sharp decline, compared to 1970, when there were 70,000. There have been efforts to save rhinoceros, through organizations such as “Save The Rhino”. According to their website, more than 1,821,000 British Pounds have been raised for rhino programs in 2018/2019. Out of the five species of rhinoceros, three of them are critically endangered, with the other two species consisting of fewer than 80 animals left in the wild.

There are several field programmes that are conducted to protect rhinos, which are located in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Kenya. In addition, there are also field programmes that encourage the reduction of illegal horn trades in Vietnam. A successful conservation effort worthwhile mentioning would be the increase in the one-horned rhinos, where the number of rhinos was 200. Today, due to successful conservative efforts, there are around 3,700 roaming the wild. However, the species still remains under threat due to poaching for its horn and loss of habitats.

Rhinoceros [recto], from a Aja’ibu-l-makhlukat (Wonders of Creation) by al-Qazvini. Author: Zakariyya ibn Muhammad al-Qazwini (d. 1283). Mughal dynasty, 18th century or later. Mughal School. India. Freer Gallery of Art
Rhinoceros-horn cup with scenes from “Romance of the Western Chamber”, Ming or Qing dynasty, 17th century, carved out of Rhinoceros horn,Freer Gallery of Art.
Description: Elaborately carved rhinoceros-horn cups were fashionable as decorations in seventeenth-century China and were occasionally used as drinking vessels; early legends secured favor for rhino horn, which was said to change color in contact with poison. This cup portrays multiple scenes from a dramatic love comedy, Romance of the Western Chamber. The episode near the top of the cup on the viewer’s right depicts the Buddhist temple where the lovers first meet. The top left is carved with a scene showing the hero climbing over a courtyard wall to profess his love to the young woman. The tip of the horn bears a battle scene in which the hero saves his lover and her mother from rebel attack. In spite of his bravery, the mother forbids her daughter’s marriage unless the hero attains high government rank. “Before the wine of parting is drunk, my heart is already shattered” is inscribed on the upper left, referring to the separation the lovers encounter when the hero leaves to achieve honors in the capital.

Value in Asian medicine

It is no secret that rhinoceros are hunted for their horns, used in traditional Chinese medicine. According to traditional Chinese texts, such as Li Shih-Chen’s 1597 medical text, rhino horns have been used in Chinese medicine for over 2000 years, and they are used to treat disorders such as fever, rheumatism and gout. Thus, leading to an increase in demand in countries like China. In Vietnam, people who were interviewed mentioned that rhino horns are used to treat ailments such as hangovers, fever, gout and even potentially terminal illnesses like cancer and stroke. 

Besides being used as medicine, rhino horns are also used as a status symbol, where consumers demonstrate their wealth, and strengthen business relationships. This is commonly found in wealthier neighborhoods in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. Despite conservative efforts, there are still illegal trades being held in the black market. Further information on conservative efforts will be discussed below.


Some of the risks and threats that rhinoceros bring to humans

Firstly, let’s take a look at zoonosis. It is a terminology that refers to events where man is  affected by animal diseases. There are diseases that are naturally transmitted between non-humans and man and actually comprises 80% of all described human infection. Though there are no diseases that are caused by rhinoceros, there are diseases that can be transmitted from rhinoceros to humans. 

Rift Valley fever is an arthropod-borne disease in mammals and humans caused by a Phlebovirus of the Bunyavirdidae family. This disease is widespread and has affected areas namely in South Africa, Namibia, Madagascar, Zimbabwe and Botswana. The diagnosis of this fever was primarily based on serology, which led to the confirmation of the disease in humans, rhinoceros and lions. Even though this disease is not caused by rhinoceros, there is still a likelihood of spillover of the infection from either animal species. According to the paper, direct exposure to infected animal secretions is associated with human mortality (from the infection). In areas like Namibia, periodic outbreaks of this disease have resulted in loss of livestock. The potential dangers of the disease to humans have only been realized in the past few years, which makes it necessary for a compulsory vaccination in areas that are of high risk. 

Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever (CCHF) is caused by a Nairovirus of the Bunyaviridae family, which inflicts a high mortality rate in humans. This virus is transmitted by Argasid or Ixodid ticks belonging to the genus Hyalomma. It is a public health concern globally due to its high fatality rate; it is transmitted nosocomially. The disease has been reported in a wide variety of wild animals, including giraffes, rhinoceros, ostriches, etc. In humans, the disease is primarily an occupational hazard, reported more in shepherds, workers in abattoirs and leather factories, veterinarians, farmers, health personnel, soldiers, peasants, forest workers, and hunters. In areas such as Namibia, there are relatively few cases of CCHF being reported, but there is a lack of comprehensive or detailed investigation into the prevalence of the disease and its transmission pathways to humans in affected farming communities. The wide host spectrum makes CCHF a major threat to humans, domestic and wild animals alike and, therefore, calls for an urgent review of current precautionary and control approaches.

According to my friend’s father, who is an owner of a TCM shop, rhinoceros horns are still hunted in many areas in China and Vietnam, and there are many proven benefits from the use of the horn. The rhinoceros is endangered but there are many nations in the world that have banned its trade. He suggests that if poachers are able to dehorn the rhinoceros, without damaging its skull, then we would still be able to see rhinoceros 30 years later.

CRISIS 2. (n.d.). Retrieved March 07, 2021, from https://march4elephantsandrhinos.org/crisis-2/
Dinerstein, E. (2021, August 25). Rhinoceros. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/animal/rhinoceros-mammal
Facts. (n.d.). WWF. Retrieved November 22, 2021, from https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/rhino
Vu Hoai, D. N.  & Nielsen, M.R.  (2020, April 01). We asked people in Vietnam why they use rhino horn. Here’s what they said. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/we-asked-people-in-vietnam-why-they-use-rhino-horn-heres-what-they-said-116307 
Why are rhinos endangered. (n.d.). Helping Rhinos innovation in Conservation. Retrieved November 22, 2021, from https://www.helpingrhinos.org/why-are-rhinos-endangered/  
Magwedere, K., Hemberger, M. Y., Hoffman, L. C., & Dziva, F. (2012). Zoonoses: A potential obstacle to the growing wildlife industry of namibia. Infection Ecology & Epidemiology, 2(1), 18365-16. https://doi.org/10.3402/iee.v2i0.18365