After analyzing over 4000 images of rhinos from the past 500 years, scientists have been able to determine that a Rhino’s horn is smaller than it used to be.
The study, which was led by the University of Helsinki, identified that hunting has had a major impact on the evolution of all five rhino species.
Images were chosen as the basis for research because there are certain protocols and protections in place that make studying real-life rhinos difficult. Another reason being that often, Museums have rhino horns in secure places because of their high-value on the black market.
Experts say they noticed the size of the animals horn begun to decrease around the 19th century.
“In other animals which are hunted for trophies, like elephants and wild sheep, the size of these trophies has got smaller over time as a result of natural selection. This suggests that the same thing might be happening with rhino horns,” said Doctoral Researcher Oscar Wilson.
Wilson also said that this investigation would provide a great basis for similar research on other animals.
“Because they are so prominent in European art and the Rhino Resource Center was already well-curated, rhinos were a great place to start this investigation, but there’s no reason that image-based analyses couldn’t be applied to other animals,” he said.
“The same techniques would work very well for elephants or tapirs for example. The potential for the same types of resources to be developed for these animals is really exciting.”
Another aim of their study was to see how the representation of rhinos in society has changed over the past 500 years.
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They said the expansion of the European empires often depicted rhinos being hunted but as these kingdoms collapsed, representation turned towards more about conservation efforts.
“Four of the five rhino species that survive today are threatened with extinction, despite their status as one of the most popular and recognizable groups of mammals today,” said the University of Helsinki.
“Their declines have been driven by hunting for their horns, as well as loss of their habitats.”