Rhinos have a new saviour in a treatment for their horns that is not toxic to them, but bad for anyone who consumes it, the Rhino Rescue Project said on Wednesday.
The treatment is a mixture of ectoparasitacides (drugs which kill parasites living on the surface of the host), developed by the Rhino and Lion Reserve in Kromdraai, north-west of Johannesburg, for its own rhinos, spokesperson Lorinda Hern said.
The potion is not lethal to humans, but causes unpleasant symptoms such as convulsions and headaches.
Rhinos at the reserve were treated more than a year ago, with no adverse behavioural or environmental effects recorded.
“The chemicals have the dual threat of keeping away both natural and human parasites … and last for three to four years.”
Add to that mixture a “trendy” neon pink indelible dye and you have a horn visible on an X-ray scanner at airports. It shows up pink even when finely ground, she told reporters.
The reserve had one of its rhinos poached in May last year and developed the treatment as a response.
“A permanent solution would be to eliminate the demand for rhino [horn] altogether. Education would go a long way towards teaching consumers that rhino horn contains no nutritional or medicinal value,” said Hern.
“However, education will not produce an immediate result, and results are what we need most at this point.”
Hern said the increased presence of the army in national parks had diverted poaching syndicates to private reserves. She called for a moratorium on rhino hunting to buy time for rhino owners who were being targeted and had no government resources at their disposal.
“The moratorium would be a logical interim measure until problems with the current [permits and microchipping] system could be fixed by government.”
Hern said the reserve was using the treatment in conjunction with sophisticated tracking technology from the Strategic Protection of Threatened Species, a conservation company.
“To further assist in the ongoing war against poaching, we harvest a DNA sample while the animal is sedated … to be added to a national database of treated animals,” she said.
“The aim [is] aiding the legal community in securing prosecutions in cases where treated horns are poached.”
Since January 1 2011, poachers have killed more than 280 rhinos in South Africa.
The local rhino population is around 18 800 white rhino and 2 200 black rhino. — Sapa