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Bizarre Hangover Cure Endangers Rhinos

The demand for ground-up rhinoceros horn in Vietnam—where it sells for more than cocaine—threatens an entire species.

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Rhino horn is a "must-have" in upper class
Vietnam. Photo via

By May Wilkerson

04/04/12

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Vietnam's growing "addiction" to rhinoceros horn threatens to wipe out the world's dwindling rhinoceros population. Rhino horns—composed of keratin, a protein found in human hair and fingernails—are considered good luck in the Asian nation, where they're widely used to prevent hangovers and cure a range of physical and spiritual ills. The horns, smuggled illegally from Africa, are often ground up and ingested in liquified form after a night of hard drinking. Authorities say Vietnam's voracious demand drives the rhino horn trade, with the high price perhaps even increasing the appeal: in Asia, the crushed powder fetches up to $55,000 per kilogram ($25,000 per pound)—a price that rivals the US street value of cocaine. Meanwhile, illegal rhino killings in Africa reached record heights in 2011 and are expected to rise again, with 150 rhinos already poached this year. Vietnamese laws around horn trafficking are less than watertight and, despite pledges to curb the problem, government crackdowns are rare. "It's a very dire situation," Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service Dan Ashe tells the Associated Press. "We have very little cushion for these populations in the wild."

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