Recently in South Africa, two vets were arrested for trafficking in rhino horns. Although rhino horns are illegal, people with money are willing to circumvent laws and consequences, to buy these horns. The unfortunate animal is shot, the horn removed and the next horned animal is stalked. Tragically, these two vets, with several others have been responsible for “hundreds of incidents” (n other words for the death of hundreds of rhinos). This particular incident draws attention to the fact in 2010 at least 210 rhinos were killed horns, where these rhinos should have been protected.
These two vets and their syndicate are only a small group involved in rhino horn poaching worldwide. Many endangered herds are threatened with extinction by the greed of poachers selling the horns for Asian medicine, ornamental daggers, and cosmetics. Model Elle MacPherson in Australia admits the use of these rhino horn cosmetics, saying it works for her.
People place tremendous belief in the “mystical” powers of these rhino horns. For centuries rhino horns have been admired, cherished and sought. Asian people mistakenly believe ground-up rhino horns will provide cures for gout, infection, snake bite, poisonings and other ailments. Yemeni men use them as a sign of manhood, and a ban in 1982 has not ended the quest for the elusive rhino horn. Women in search of eternal youth purchase the cosmetics in a vain attempt to maintain the illusion of their fleeting beauty. Others, hoping for increased sexual prowess purchase the powder as an aphrodisiac.
Scientists, however, have shed a different light on the rhino horn by studying horn material to investigate the “healing properties.” Scientists discovered the horns are comprised mainly of keratin, found in hooves, fingernails and hair. A rhino horn is pure keratin, unlike other animal horns which consists of a thin layer of keratin covering a bony core. The keratin, as it ages, becomes lustrous, and many people are attracted to the shine and smoothness of the material.
Keratin in rhino horns may detect the presence of poison because of the alkaline nature of the horns. Yet the detection of poison using rhino horns is no longer necessary as modern medicine provides effective poison detectors. These modern medicines do not require the death of an animal. In fact, the many studies conducted by scientists are debunking the claims that rhino horn powder is more effectual than modern medicines for such conditions as fevers. As an aphrodisiac, rhino horns have no medicinal properties, but perhaps the psychcologial impact of centuries of misguided beliefs perpetrates this fantasy. Also, scientists can now identify the source of the horn, and help in the apprehension of poachers.
The challenge to educate people about the medicinal effect of rhino horns as similar to biting one’s nails will require a tremendous effort. Centuries of traditional thinking must be altered, as well as, instilling in people, the need to protect these endangered animals. Sadly, people do not realize that IF they insist on these horns, the horns can be removed and new horns will regenerate. Why kill an animal for an object that could be removed with the animal allowed to live and flourish?
The world demand on vanishing species is appalling. The endangered species list continues to grow as these species are overfished, overhunted, starved or tortured. Greed and indifference create the scenario for the destruction of species that cannot be regenerated, once gone. Although the two vets and their accomplices in South Africa represent a small portion of the poachers worldwide, when does this cruel and unnecessary practice stop?
Perhaps the solution lies in possibly raising herds of these animals humanly, and removing horns at times that will keep the animal healthy and safe. Why not provide so many rhino horns and flood the market so the poaching stops. Unfortunately, this solution is not a permanent one, and may create more challenges. Changing cultural beliefs centuries old will not happen quickly, however educated people may appear. The world must agree on a solution to stop the poaching of such a beautiful and vanishing animal. Otherwise, rhinos like so many other species will be found in drawings and stuffed in museums, and vanished from the places once inhabited.