An organization called the Rhino Rescue Project caused a stir in South African conservationist circles this month when they announced that they had treated the horns of several rhinos living on game reserves with toxic substances in order to discourage the poachers who are decimating the country’s wild rhino population. But will this measure solve the problem?
I don’t think so.
Lorinda Hern, a spokesperson for the Rhino Rescue Project, said that the poison they injected into the animals’ horns, a mixture of ectoparasitacides (substances that kill parasites living on the surface of a host), was not lethal to humans, but would cause unpleasant symptoms including headaches and convulsions. She suggested that this intervention represents a long-lasting and cost-effective anti-poaching strategy.
I have several problems with it.
For starters, I just can’t reconcile my personal ethics with the idea of intentionally poisoning another human being. It’s not too difficult to imagine innocent people getting hurt. Just think of a parent administering a potion of “traditional medicine” containing poisoned rhino horn powder to an innocent child, for instance.
For me, the end – i.e. saving the rhino from extinction – can’t justify the use of morally corrupt and criminal means. The very reason I’m a social and environmental justice activist is because I don’t want to live in a world where that is acceptable.
And then there is the question about the animals themselves. The Rhino Rescue Project claims that trials they conducted showed no adverse behavioral or environmental effects, but I can’t imagine that they conducted these tests in a manner that is nearly rigorous enough to prove this scientifically and conclusively. I tend to agree with the opinion expressed by the Endangered Wildlife Trust who responded that “if it makes people sick, it will surely make animals sick.”
There must be better strategies to protect the rhino. The way to stop people from buying rhino horn powder is to educate them, not to poison them. We need to inform them that the stuff has been scientifically shown to have no medical value whatsoever and that it is no a cure for cancer or any other human ailment.
We also need to show them the effect that their consumptive habits have on hundreds of ruthlessly butchered rhinos every year and on the rhino population as a whole. Exposing the world to videos and pictures that emotively depict the beauty of these animals and the brutality of their slaughter is definitely one way of accomplishing this.
Another one is to think out of the box. On Rhino Day, some enterprising rhino activists used their creativity to help South Africans come to grips with the scope of the rhino poaching epidemic. They erected 282 white crosses on the Green Point promenade in Cape Town – one for each rhino killed by poachers this year. Have a look at pictures here and here.
Andreas is a book shop manager and freelance writer in Cape Town, South Africa. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath
Photo from: Stock.Xchng