Top 10 facts about rhinos

South Africa's rhinoceroses are in grave peril.

A record 448 were killed in 2011. A rising demand in East Asia for their horns, which are valued for medicinal purposes, has led to a corresponding spike in poaching. Experts say that the horns serve no medicinal purpose, but that has not stopped the demand for rhino horn.

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Some poachers risk imprisonment and death to obtain and smuggle their horns: Two Mozambicans were killed in a shootout earlier this year, and three face 25-year prison sentences.

The borders of South Africa's famous Kruger National Park are not as safe a refuge as they appear — over half the rhino deaths related to poaching in South Africa, which is home to 80 percent of the world's rhino population, occured inside the park. Many that work there are on strike, inciting additional fears about the security of the rhinos within Kruger's perimeter.

More from GlobalPost: Kruger Park rangers strike triggers rhino poaching fears

The dangers that rhinos face have not gone unnoticed. Reports highlighting the rise in poaching have flooded the mainstream media since the beginning of the year.

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Although the news on rhinos in recent months has been somber, we should not forget what amazing creatures they are. Here are 10 facts about them that you probably didn't know:

1. $65,000 a kilo … for fingernails?

Rhino horns, the prize that poachers seek, are actually made up of keratin — the same substance that comprises human hair and fingernails, according to the International Rhino Foundation.

2. Helping save lives

Recent research shows that the process in which rhino horns form and repair themselves could help teach auto makers how to create more impact-resistant bumpers for cars.


A group of rhinos is called a crash. Enough said.

4. Don't make me angry …

Rhinos are known for their ill-temper, but many do not know that this is due to their poor eyesight rather than their general disposition. Because they are so nearsighted, many movements that appear harmless will actually frighten a rhino and incite it to charge. However, rhinos have an impeccable sense of hearing and smell in order to make up for their poor eyesight.

5. One of a kind

The rarest land mammal in the world is the Javan rhinoceros. Only 50 survive on the planet today in two locations: Cat Tien National Park in Vietnam and Ujung Kulon National Park in Indonesia.

6. Rhino tipping?

Rhinos sleep standing up in addition to lying down, according to the World Wildlife Foundation.

7. Full steam ahead

It may not seem so until one is charging ahead at juggernautish speed, but rhinos are a fast bunch. Black rhinos can run up to 40 miles per hour.

8. Who needs cortizone cream?

Ever wonder why rhinos seem to always be covered in mud? The seemingly thick armor that covers a rhino isn't actually thick at all. Rhino skin is incredibly soft and sensitive, especially to sunburn and insect bites — irritations which mud can help soothe.

9. You complete me …

African rhinos have symbiotic relationships with birds called oxpeckers. Also known as "tickbirds" or “askari wa kifaru," which means “the rhino’s guard” in Swahili, the birds eat ticks and other insects they find on the rhino. The birds also create a commotion when they sense danger, alerting the nearsighted rhinos.

10. Not your average family reunion

The International Rhino Foundation says that the closest living rhino “relatives” are horses, zebras and tapirs. Don't know what a tapir is? It is a rare nocturnal hoofed mammal with a stout body, sturdy limbs, and a short flexible proboscis (trunk), native to the forests of tropical America and Malaysia. Now you know.

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