Rhino Horns and Poachers

Rhino Horns and Poachers

There’s an amazing balance in the design of living things in this world. Many times humans throw the system out of balance. The rhinoceros is endangered not because of natural predators, but because of humans. Rhino horns can sell for thousands of dollars for their collectible value and their use in traditional Asian medicine, so poachers take advantage of that.

People are willing to pay a high price for the rhino horns for decorative or medicinal purposes. Killing these animals to use their horns for decorative trophies is shameful. Killing them for medicine is useless. Their horns consist of only keratin, which is the same as human hair or fingernails. In reality, the rhino horn is one really tough bundle of nose hairs glued together by material extruded from sebaceous glands in the animal’s nose. Superstitious beliefs have caused people to grind the rhino horns into powder and drink the powder in water or inhale it for supposed health benefits.

Wild rhinos numbered over half-a-million at the beginning of the twentieth century. Today there are fewer than 30,000. The International Rhino Foundation reports that three rhinos are killed each day by poachers just to obtain their horns. Trying to catch the poachers and stop them in the act is nearly impossible. Sawing off the rhino’s horn to make it unattractive to poachers is not a good solution. Science is looking for a better way.

Researchers from the University of Oxford have designed fake rhino horns that look and feel like the real thing. More than that, they have similar material properties to the real horns. They used hairs from the tails of horses (close relatives of rhinos) and cemented them together with a silk-protein based organic filler. Molding the structure into the shape of a rhino horn, you get a realistic imitation. Even examining the internal structure on cross-section reveals identical characteristics. It also handles grinding and high temperatures like the real deal.

These fake rhino horns can be manufactured rather economically, so the rhinoceros horn market could be flooded with them to disrupt the black market. Furthermore, when the horns are ground into powder for medicinal purposes, they will be just as effective real horns, meaning not effective at all.

Education doesn’t work as long as people have superstitious religious beliefs about the power of rhino horns. Perhaps the fake horns will help. The best answer to the problem of human abuse of this well-designed world is to realize that the Creator has given us the job of being caretakers of the creation. (Genesis 2:15) If we believe there is a Creator who holds us responsible, we have good reason to handle the Earth and the life on it with care.

— Roland Earnst © 2019

Animal Sizes and Human Benefits

Animal Sizes and Human BenefitsThere have always been large animals living on planet Earth, and there are also massive numbers of small animals. The question is whether there is a reason for each of these to exist. What is the reason for animal sizes?

Large animals require not only a lot of room but also significant amounts of food to provide energy for their massive bodies. In ancient times, dinosaurs became enormous. Their capacity to eat large quantities of plant material and spread the seeds was also huge. Today, our large animals such as rhinos and elephants are nowhere near the size of many of the dinosaurs. Still, they are large, and they consume enormous amounts of plant material. A whole ecosystem is built around these large animals, but the space available to house them is becoming smaller and smaller. Most scientific studies indicate the likely extinction of the large animal forms.

Researchers at England’s University of Southampton have been studying 15,500 mammal and bird species to ask what the future holds for large animals. Their studies show that in the next 100 years, the average body mass of mammals will shrink by 25%. As the larger animals become extinct, smaller, fertile animals will replace them.

The design of this system is amazing. In the primitive Earth, there was a need to provide resources in massive quantities over a large geographic area, and the larger animals could do that. As we dig into the fossil records of Earth, we see evidence of how successful this system was. Massive coal beds speak of conditions very different from those of today. Providing these resources required enormous animals.

Environmental change has made the production of these kinds of resources unnecessary. God designed the system in such a way that size fits the needs of the ecosystem. While we are reluctant to allow large animals to become extinct, their survival is no longer critical to the continuance of the ecosystem in which they live. Human influence has also been a factor in the reduction of animal sizes.

We find an example of the importance of small animal sizes in the oceans. Coral reefs are critical to the survival of ecosystems along the shorelines of the world. The United States Geological Survey reports that in U.S. Waters, coral reefs provide more than 1.8 billion dollars in flood protection benefits every year. The reefs are vast collections of tiny organisms which break waves, drain energy from ocean storms, and protect the land along the shoreline. In 2017 tropical storms caused more than $265 billion in damage in the United States. Much of that damage was due to the destruction of coral reefs.

God has designed animal sizes to allow them to benefit humans. He has left it to us to understand how these systems work and protect and nurture them. We live in an amazing world that has been created with wisdom and purpose. Understanding how animals benefit us will lead to protecting and caring for the world in which we live.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Data from National Wildlife, October/November 2019, page 8.