South Africa: Will Poisoning Horns Halt Rhino Poaching?

Photo: White rhinoceros (Digital Vision)

How far would you go to stop rhino poaching? Constantly outgunned by poachers' high-tech helicopters, machine guns, night-vision binoculars, bullet-proof vests and insane arsenal in the illegal trade of "medicinal" rhino horns that are worth more than gold, one pissed-off game manager outside of Johannesburg, South Africa wants to do the unthinkable: inject poison into horns as a deadly warning to would-be poachers and the consumers who would buy them.According to South Africa's The Times, Ed Hern, owner of the Lion and Rhino Park outside of Johannesburg, says injecting poison into rhino's horns will protect them from poachers and kill the demand for rhino horn right at the source, which is prized as a medicinal ingredient in Asian medicine.

"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," he said.

Will this harm rhinos?
Hern has no intention of harming his rhinos, some of whom are orphans that he took in after their mothers were killed. "The horn is made of hair, there is no blood flow through it and so far we have not seen any effects," he explains. "But if someone used the horn as medicine they would get very sick or die."

So is this legal? Hern has consulted with lawyers already, who said that if he went ahead with his plan, he would "get into a lot of trouble."

High-tech poaching syndicates to blame
South Africa's rhino population is being beseiged by well-organized and well-armed rhino poaching syndicates that are likely colluding with industry insiders. In six months of this year alone, 124 South African rhinos have been poached, up from 122 for all of 2009. Just last week, the last female white rhino in a South African reserve was killed from above by poachers.

The problem lies with a lack of better infrastructure to catch poachers. Says Faan Coetzee of the Endangered Wildlife Trust: "We need better patrolling and the government needs to focus more on catching the syndicates, the top guys."

On the ground, managers like Hern are desparate - though he pays a private security guards and equips them with night-vision binoculars to watch over his rhinos, they cannot compete with poachers.

"[H]ow do these compare to the kind of binoculars that these syndicates have, that can see a rhino at night from 4km away and cost a quarter-of-a-million rand (US $34,000)? No game park can afford that."

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Tags: Animals | Conservation | South Africa

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