In The East, powdered rhino horn has long been associated / prescribed for fevers and liver complains. And of course there is the, largely apocryphal, idea that rhino horn was / is a potent aphrodisiac: horn, knob, penis - geddit? Apparently, however, in 2008 a rumour blew up in Vietnam that rhino horn had cured a famous politician of cancer. Everyone knew someone with 'cancer' and demand for the miracle product soared and the price followed demand upwards to dizzying heights. If a chap in a grass hut in Africa could get his hands on an AK47 and a clip of ammo he could dream of securing $600,000 worth of mystic keratin [rhino-horn; hair; toenail: the same] that would fit handily in a rucksack. Follow the money dictated that poaching would go sky-high.
In countries where the discrepancy in wealth and power is very high, putting the army in to fight the poachers only adds another well-armed item in the food-chain taking a cut. Cute technological solutions, dreamed up in dogoodnik Ivy League laboratories (like removing the horn under sterile conditions and replacing it with a 3D-printed prosthesis) don't work in darkest Africa. The poaching is not done at lunchtime, they use infra-red heat sensitive night googles to hunt their prey at blackest midnight. Even if the poachers can even see that there is no real horn on the mass hidden in that bush, they waste the beast anyway so as not to waste time on succeeding hunts.
Candace Scott, advocate of genetics-for-targeted-conservation, is supportive of the idea of breeding rhinos for their horn on farms. It's a long term strategy because rhino pregnancies are 2 years (!) and infant dependency a further 3 years . . . but rhino horn grows continuously, so it's a potential business model that is functionally equivalent to raising dairy-cows or angora goats. The World Wildlife Fund WWF goes bonkers when they hear this: it is condoning a trade that is illegal, and condoning a medical and ethical practice that is
Whatever the grandstanding and questionable ethical positions, it looks like too little too late for most of the existing species of rhinoceros. The leather tanks will soon be terminally obsolete. Dang! They have an important part to play in the ecosystem: ticks, dung-beetles, hosts of nematodes and bacteria depend on their browsings and grazings and leavings for their own survival. The world will be a poorer place when they are gone. Too bad that a number of already wealthy Triad bosses, and army generals with aspirations for a coup d'état, are going to fill up their Swiss bank accounts as the rhinos go down to a stutter of automatic rifle fire. May their penises wither!