Preview: Animal Planet's 'Rhino Wars' a riveting reality docu-drama, for 2013

2013 previews: Recommended reality TV docu-drama series "Rhino Wars" on Animal Planet is riveting and real, heartfelt and laced with humor from unlikely new TV stars: Four American special-ops men assigned to help South African forces in the fight for the White Rhino.

All five of the world’s species of rhinoceros have been brought to the edge of extinction because of human appetite for their horns.

The horns have been prized for tens of centuries for their beautiful translucent color when carved, and their supposed healing properties.

The locale of the new Animal Planet series "Rhino Wars" is the front lines of southern Africa's ruthless rhino war, which since 2006 has seen more than a thousand rhinos slaughtered, some 22 poachers gunned down and more than 200 arrested last year in South Africa alone.

The poacher's prize is the rhino's horn, an ingredient in traditional Asian medicines and muslim culture where it is fashioned as a decorative handle for a knife.

Though black market prices vary widely, as of last fall dealers in Vietnam quoted prices ranging from $33 to $133 a gram, which at the top end is double the price of gold and can exceed the price of cocaine.

In the Middle Eastern country of Yemen, the horn continues to be coveted by Muslim men, although imports were banned in 1982. The material, whose luster increases with age, is used for the handles of curved daggers called “jambiya,” which are presented to Yemeni boys at age 12. Jambiya are considered a sign of manhood and devotion to the Muslim religion, and are used for personal defense.

Far more pervasive, however, is their use in the traditional medicine systems of many Asian countries, from Malaysia and South Korea to India and China, to cure a variety of ailments.

Unlike the horns of most animals, which have a bony core covered by a relatively thin layer of keratin, rhino horns are keratin all the way through — although the precise chemical composition of the keratin will vary depending on a rhino’s diet and geographic location. In traditional Chinese medicine, the horn is shaved or ground into a powder and dissolved in boiling water, used to treat fever, rheumatism, gout, and other disorders. It is not, as commonly believed, prescribed as an aphrodisiac.

Although the range of the two African species—the white rhino and its smaller cousin, the black rhino—has been reduced primarily to southern Africa and Kenya, their populations had shown encouraging improvement. In 2007 white rhinos numbered 17,470, while blacks had nearly doubled to 4,230 since the mid '90s. But these numbers do not show the resurgence of late in the wholesale slaughter of these animals for the illegal horn trade.

From Animal Planet

A war is raging in Kruger National Park, located just outside Johannesburg, South Africa. It’s a battle that has a nation on edge but garners considerably less attention worldwide. The death toll is astonishing; each year, nearly 500 rhinos and more than 100 humans fall prey to the RHINO WARS.

At the heart of the conflict is the worldwide commercial demand for rhino horns, an exotic commodity that’s more valuable than gold. RHINO WARS... the next evolution in Animal Planet’s muscular conservation strand, reveals the conflict among the country’s nefarious poachers and South Africa’s anti-poaching unit, which has recruited armed forces to stop the illegal, lucrative trade of rhino horns. Cameras unveil the incessant violence and excessive carnage as park rangers are murdered trying to protect the wildlife that’s indigenous to their homeland.

Four current and former members of the U.S. Special Ops (Navy SEALs and a Green Beret) are brought in to survey the situation, train the anti-poaching corps, exchanged tactical information and go on the front lines themselves to help defeat these ruthless criminals before the rhinos are brought to total extinction.

The notable stars of this surprisingly taught and well played docuseries: Craig “Sawman” Sawyer, Team Leader, Navy SEAL Fmr; “Oz,” Medic and Green Beret; Dap Maritz, Security Manager, Game Reserves United (GRU)

More information to come after the official reveal at the Television Critics' Association 2013 winter press tour in Pasadena!

Further Reading on M&C