Will Poisoning Rhino Horns Stop Poaching?


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

Related Stories:

South Africa’s Other Poaching Scourge

Rhino Poachers Strike Again

Rhino Horns Stolen From Museums, Sold on Black Market in Asia


Photo from: Stock.Xchng


William C
William Cabout a year ago

Thanks for caring.

W. C
W. C2 years ago

Thank you.

Phyl M.
Bul M6 years ago

Full punishment, & jail time for any poacher & killer of any wild animal.

Gina H.
Gina H7 years ago

My only issue would be if the poison harmed the rhinos. I'm sick of the "poor humans" who insist on killing off various animals for PROFIT and use "tradition" as an excuse. Leave the rhinos alone and no one gets poisoned...DUH! They DO know better and the poachers are the ones responsible for the poisoning of others not the people trying to protect them. Maybe if the poison rotted the poachers' genitals off immediately the jerks finally leave the rhinos alone. The rhinos are running out of options with little choice but humans aren't. Past Member makes an excellent point in her/his comment. I'd also like to know the statistics on the poachers whether they really are trying to "support a starving family " or just some guy out for himself killing for money and leaving a wake of children from the numerous women he's raped. Some of us are tired of the "human rights" always running over animals to extinction and ruining the environment when the true population problem is too many humans.

Brian Jenions7 years ago

We all seem to be worrying about the people who use rhino horn and these people do not care if the rhino becomes extinct. I don't care in the slightest what happens to these people, once a few of them have died perhaps the demand will start declining. Stop blaming the conservationists, the poachers will still sell the horns even when they know they are poisoned so they are the ones who will be to blame. We must put an end to this horrific trade by any means possible. I would rathe see these beautiful rhino's safe and not endangered than a few of the 100 million asians dead

Andrea A.
Andrea A7 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

pam w.
pam w7 years ago

First....I propose that a South African might have a better grasp of the poaching problem in his country than people half a world away.

Secondly...shooting poachers only creates new ones. Until you solve the poverty problem which creates poaching, you'll never end it! If I'm a hungry African who needs X dollars to feed my family and someone offers me three or four times that much for a rhino horn---what do YOU think I'm going to do?

Thirdly..."painting" an animal with poison is just INCREDIBLY risky--not only to the animal itself but to any animal who drinks from the same water hole or eats the flesh of a dead rhino. Would you paint your nails with poison? No? Why not?

"Arm chair" experts who have never even visited Africa aren't in a good position to solve this issue.

Meanwhile, greedy Asians are mixing horn with viagra, so it appears to be effective.

And pathetic men with erection problems are spending a fortune buying it.

This is NOT a simple problem!

Peace D.
Peace Dolphin7 years ago

i guess educate people is the best way to stop all these cruelty and meaningless activities..
but usually we set up our mind and not so easy to accept another person's mind,then try to change something together...
im so glad still have someone give d best effort n try to stop such violent activity while d world change sooooo terribly...
come to the main point,i guess we should educate our young generation,they bring up the trend,beliefs and actions...they are d main stream n hope in d world nowadays..
with the cooperation of government,i really really hope all these brainless thingy can stop eventually...

David L.
David L.7 years ago

Personally I don't wish the death upon any human being but there is a limit to the tolerance of evil. If poisining Rhino horn acts as a deterent then they should know better that the horn has and will never have any medicinal value to help their problems. Up to now there has been no indication of condemnation by the Chinese government for their people using and trading in rhino horn. This alone is very worrying not just for the rhino but all other wildlife traded for their body parts used for stoneage beliefs that these animals can make some miraculous cure. We are in 2011, just rediculous that these people can be so ignorant of the fact that there is alternative measures such as the use of herbal or western medicines.

Jami Winn
Jami Winn7 years ago

anybody, sick child or other wise, deserves to be poisoned on the plus side rhinos are endangered and aren't these parents who are giving rhino horn powered to their kids helping to cause poaching to continue so personally i don't care what happens to them or their kids they shouldn't be buying it in the first place