Med. Weter. 79 (5), 216-222, 2023

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Poaching and illegal trade in rhino horn - a significant problem for an endangered species
The international problem of poaching and illegal trade in rhino horn has led to the formulation of standards defining human duties towards the natural environment and animals, especially the endangered species. The smuggling of animals and animal products, as well as historical, artistic or archaeological exhibits, required legislators to come up with more stringent and faster penal measures against crime, which also involved the introduction of uniform methods of identification and marking. The movement of personal goods, as well goods exchanged between scientific units has been subjected to stricter control, in which scientific knowledge and consulting bodies play a more important role. This had a definite positive effect on nature conservation in general. In the case of rhinoceroses, however, protection and attempts to restore them to the environment have encountered significant difficulties, which posed both technical and ethical dilemmas for these activities. Other unintended consequences included increased demand for rhino horn, proliferation of criminal groups specialized in the theft and smuggling of horns, as well as political conflicts. The desire to acquire horns has a cultural background in many countries. For example, the use of rhino horn, although its efficacy has not been proven by clinical trials, is well-established in traditional Chinese medicine. Modern identification methods, from macroscopic and microscopic evaluation to advanced molecular methods with analysis based on genetic profiling, make it possible to identify even the smallest amount of substances derived from rhino horn (e.g. in a powdered form). Scanning microscopy, fluorescence techniques, roentgenography and computed tomography are used. Thermogravimetric analysis, protein profiling, evaluation of inductively compressed plasma are also useful for this purpose. Such identification methods can determine a wide range of parameters, including the phylogenetic and geographical origin, sex, age, and condition of the animal, as well as the horn growth rate or climatic changes.
Keywords: rhino horn, smuggling, CITES