South Africa lost no less than 19 rhinos inside the first half of 2010. The state of affairs are so critical that the South African National Defence has been deployed in a number of national parks in an attempt to prevent poaching.
At this point, rhinos have been armed with the method to fight back. Ed Hern, owner of the Rhino and Lion Reserve in Kromdraai, near Krugersdorp in Gauteng, has developed a scheme to make the much-coveted horn less palatable.
Hern created controversy last year when he was quoted as saying: “We need to try poisoning the horns with something like cyanide so when someone uses it for medicine they will die. I have started testing with a vet.”
Reluctant to be held accountable for murder, as well as on the recommendations of conservation body Endangered Wildlife Trust, Hern moderated his position. Since that time he has been testing with non-lethal, but disagreeable ingredients to inject into the rhino horn in a desperate effort to halt the butchering.
The toxic combination has been fine-tuned and tested in animals which had been injected over 12 months ago and have exhibited zero side effects – only humans suffer.
On 7 September the reserve’s Rhino Rescue Project declared that it is going to proceed with injecting its chemical mixture into a lot more horns. The news has been applauded in advance of World Rhino Day today.
The formula is made up of a number of ectoparasitacides, that is, drugs that are meant to eliminate parasites that reside on the outside of of the host.
Even though the formulation is not lethal – which has caused yet another storm of online comments from angered rhino supporters who desire nothing more than to see culprits slain – it will bring about side effects such as convulsions and severe headaches.
Add to that a neon pink dye, impossible to get rid of or alter, intended to make the horn visible on airport x-ray scanners, and enable authorities to make arrests then and there.
Hern said in a statement: “A permanent remedy would be to eradicate demand for rhino horn completely.”
He added that education and learning is vital in persuading consumers – who come for the most part from the Far East – that rhino horn is made up of no nutritional or medicinal value.
But with 90% of rhino figures decimated in recent times, an extreme and instant approach is required, and Hern is convinced his methodology can provide this solution. The procedure, which generally lasts 3 to 4 years, will in addition keep parasites away.
Although some people might consider that the tactic will not work on big reserves with large numbers of animals, like the Kruger Park, it could be successful in private reserves which may have only a handful of rhinos.
Rhinos in crisis
By the end of 2010, in excess of 330 rhinos ended up being poached in South Africa alone. This is actually the highest number of deaths ever documented.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature observed during 2009 that approximately 12 rhinos were poached in South Africa and Zimbabwe on a monthly basis. By comparison, statistics revealed that in other rhino territories such as India and Nepal, the toll in 6 months was 10 and 7 respectively.
Despite the fact that gains have been made as a consequence of dedicated conservation efforts, particularly in South Africa, the rhino population is not large, with three of the species listed as critically endangered.
The global population, at the end of 2010, was in fact estimated at 25 045 in Africa and merely 3 100 in Asia. South Africa’s count is approximately 18 800 white rhino and 2 200 black rhino.
The spectacular animals have to deal with a very real prospect of extinction as levels of poaching increase.
Killed for their horns
The rhino, from the Rhinocerotidae family, occurs as five species. Two of these – the white and black rhino – are native to Africa, while the Indian rhino, Sumatran Rhino and Javan Rhino are native to Asia. The latter animal, one of the most engandered in the world, has the lowest population count of all the species, with just 50 individuals still alive.
The much-prized horns are simply just compressed keratin, a protein also present in hair and fingernails, and have absolutely zero medical value. Unfortunately this has not halted people over the centuries from seeking it for ornamental or medicinal purposes.
The ornamental use of rhino horn goes back to at least the seventh century AD, and today is commonly used for this purpose mostly in Middle Eastern countries such as Yemen, where it is carved into elaborately designed knife handles.
Many Asian countries are convinced that rhino horn not only cures ailments, but at the same time acts as an aphrodisiac. This has never been scientifically proven.
It is because of these flawed beliefs that hundreds of rhinos are poached each and every year, and the quantity is climbing. Rhino horn has been acknowledged to fetch up to R430 200 ($60 000), per kilogram.