Wildlife Managers Are Poisoning Rhino Horns to Stop People From Eating Them

The poison, a mix of parasiticides and pink dye, now fills more than 100 rhinos’ horns

In South Africa, the Guardian reports, some wildlife managers are attempting a radical new method of combating the illegal wildlife trade. They are injecting live rhino’s horn with poison that would make people who consume it “seriously ill.”

Rhino horns currently fetch the equivalent price or more of their weight in gold in markets in China and Vietnam, where they are largely used in traditional Chinese medicine concoctions or as a condiment to sprinkle atop dishes. Poaching and selling rhino horns is illegal, however, and taking the horns means killing the animals. So far this year, more than 200 rhinos have been poached in South Africa alone, meaning the country is well on its way to beating last year’s 668 total animals killed for their horns. Conservationists estimate that, at this rate, around 1,000 rhinos will die this year. 

The poison, a mix of parasiticides and pink dye, now fills more than 100 rhinos’ horns, which were not harmed in the process. Anyone who eats horns laced with the poison will become ill, with symptoms including nausea, stomach ache and diarrhea  though they will not die, managers say. Conservationists hope the poison—which is easily seen thanks to the pink dye—make consumers think twice before eating the purported “medicinal product.” Airport scanners can also detect the dye, whether it’s contained within a whole horn or ground into a powder. 

The chemicals are available over the counter, mostly used for controlling ticks on livestock, and injecting the horns with the poison is legal. Additionally, wildlife managers are warning would-be poachers and consumers with a media campaign and also by posting noticed on fences surrounding protected areas.

Some conservationists worry, however, that the poison will just encourage the poachers to seek rhinos in other parts of South Africa or Africa, or that poachers will even use their own dye to return the pink horns to their original color so they can still sell them to naive consumers.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Defending the Rhino 
In Vietnam, Rhino Horn is the Drug of Choice at Both Parties and Hospitals 

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