Rhinos Dying vs Dyeing Rhinos

South African Game Reserve Poisons Rhino’s Horns to Prevent Poaching

I did a post on rhinos recently, but I thought this article was too interesting to pass up. In a new, desperate attempt to keep rhinos from being poached for their horns, the Sabi Sand game reserve in South Africa has begun to poison rhino horns. After the rhino patient is tranquilized, parasiticides and dye are injected into the rhino’s horn. The chemical mix is usually used to control ticks on farm animals, but when ingested, people risk becoming “seriously ill.” The dye can supposedly not be removed, so it should be obvious to the consumer that eating it will make them sick. The association running this “toxification process” says they are advertising it, putting up signs, and reaching out to the media to spread the word and hopefully dissuade poachers. The dye can be detected by airport scanners even if the horn is ground down to a powder. Although this may seem like a good idea for curbing the desire for rhino horns, one spokesman says, “it would be ‘virtually impossible’ to apply the process to all the rhinos in national parks because of a lack of resources.” Hence, other rhino advocates believe the “inking” will just displace poachers to other rhino areas rather than effectively deterring them. The topic of dealers possibly bleaching the horns somehow and continuing to circulate the product was also discussed in the article.

Pan Pan ! A mort les Rhino !

Pan Pan ! A mort les Rhino ! (Photo credit: Romain [ apictureourselves.org ])

Even though the dye is supposed to be indelible, I was also wondering about the possibility of bleaching. With the crazy amount of chemicals available today, I figure there has to be something that can remove the dye. My other issue with this idea was this quote: “If the poacher hacks off the horn, he’ll immediately see it’s contaminated. We’re saying to the poachers: ‘Don’t bother coming to Sabi Sand. You’re wasting your time.'” I thought the horn would be visibly dyed from the outside too. Although having toxic horns may be a deterrent for the market, this dyeing strategy would still involve the rhinos getting dehorned and left for dead. Because of the inability for this toxification process to be widespread, poachers would still be killing rhinos and hoping the horn is not contaminated. I think some sort of visual marker needs to be apparent to poachers before they kill the rhinos. Furthermore, if rhino horn is used as a “traditional medicine” by some people, than many people consuming rhino horn are already sick. While ingesting rhino horn may cause healthy people to become “seriously ill,” it may have worse consequences for people who are already sick. This toxification idea is definitely a risky move, but if it works flawlessly, maybe more funds will become available and make “rhino dyeing” a possibility at all reserves.

Related BloggerheadSeaTurtle post: Pretty Pictures and Rummaging Rhinos

Rhino! Wiki Commons: Wj32

Rhino! Wiki Commons: Wj32

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2 responses to “Rhinos Dying vs Dyeing Rhinos

  1. Unfortunately, this strategy addresses only a symptom (the poaching), but not the underlying cause, namely the demand for rhino horn. It’s essentially the same as with diamonds: as long as consumers buy the stuff, some people will not shrink from committing atrocious acts to profit financially from the demand.

    • I think they are trying to decrease the consumer demand for rhino horn because people won’t want to buy it if it may make them sick. My supply-demand issue with this strategy is that rhino horn is still used for other things besides traditional medicine. Poachers may not be able to sell horn for medicinal purposes, but horns are used for things like jewelry, hairpieces, decorations, etc. In those functions, I don’t see the dye making that much of a difference. But, I agree. Removing the demand is really the key to bringing about lasting change. We just haven’t been able to find a effective way of doing that yet, so conservationists are forced to explore other options.

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