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African rhinos could face extinction by 2020: Where you can see them, before they're gone

In the 20th century, there were more than 500,000 black and white rhinos roaming Africa. Today there are about 26,000 left on the continent.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, if rhino poaching increases at a steady rate African rhinos won't last until the end of this decade. Poachers receive about $5,000 for a single horn in areas where the average monthly salary is $200.

Some Asians believe the horn, made of keratin, the same material in our fingernails and hair, is powerful medicine. A rhino horn can fetch about $60,000 a kilo (2.2 pounds).

"If we sent off our toenail clippings and hair trimmings, they'd get the same product," said Angela Sheldrick of Kenya's David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which takes in orphaned elephants and rhinos.

Over the last decade I noticed a dearth of rhinos in southern and eastern Africa, where I used to see them frequently. The best places to see rhinos now are where they are guarded by armed rangers.

Ol Pejeta Conservancy (www.olpejetaconservancy.org) in central Kenya is known for its exemplary conservation efforts on behalf of protected rhinos and chimpanzees. South Africa also has several sanctuaries, such as Kruger National Park (www.sanparksadopt.org) in the northeast and Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal (www.lat.ms/1U9XvEz), which has the largest white rhino population in the world.

Measures have been taken to deter poaching, such as embedding the animals with tracking chips or cameras, but nothing has been adopted widely.

The key to stopping the trade is to educate those — such as the Chinese, Malaysians and Koreans — who believe in the horns' medicinal efficacy, and the Yemenis and Omanis who use rhino horn for the handles on traditional daggers.

travel@latimes.com

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