Over 200 rhinos have been poached in South Africa this year alone, a chilling figure that has driven the Sabi Sand Game Reserve to take drastic measures in an attempt to reduce the slaughter.
Poaching is the single biggest threat to rhino survival in South Africa, driven by increasing demand for rhino horn in Asia where it is highly valued in traditional medicine. Thousands of rhinos have already been butchered by organised gangs and crime syndicates.
Over the past 18 months, the Sabi Sand Game Reserve in South Africa has been injecting non-lethal poison into the rhinos’ horns, along with an indelible pink dye. Ingestion of any products made with poisoned rhino horn will cause the consumer to become “seriously ill”.
On the effects of the poison, Andrew Parker, chief executive of the Sabi Sand Wildtuin Association says, “It’ll make [people] very ill – nausea, stomach ache, diarrhoea – it won’t kill them… It will be very visible, so it would take a very stupid consumer to consume this.”
The chemicals used to contaminate the rhinos’ horns are readily available over the counter and the aim is to advertise this poisoning practice as much as possible. Hopefully, these measures will serve to reduce both the demand for the product and therefore the levels of poaching. The indelible pink dye is detectable by airport scanners in whole rhino horns, and when they are ground into a powder.
“If the poacher hacks off the horn, he’ll immediately see it’s contaminated. We’re saying to the poachers: ‘Don’t bother coming to Sabi Sand. You’re wasting your time’,” says Parker.
Why poison horns?
Despite the many measures taken to reduce the number of rhino deaths, the massacre has continued and the death rate has increased. With conservationists at a loss as to what to do next, the idea of poisoning the product was born.
Parker explains, “Despite all the interventions by police, the body count has continued to climb. Everything we’ve tried has not been working and for poachers it has become a low-risk, high-reward ratio. By contaminating the horn, you reduce the reward and the horn becomes a valueless product.”
Reactions to the programme have not been unanimous. Although South Africa National Parks have shown support for the programme, they remain sceptical regarding its effectiveness within all national parks, saying the lack of resources will make it “virtually impossible”.
TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, also highlighted the low likelihood of success in the large areas where rhinos are free-ranging, such as Kruger National Park. Their concern is that by reducing poaching within a concentrated area such as Sabi Sand, it might not have an effect on overall poaching levels due to a ‘displacement effect’, whereby poaching intensity is increased elsewhere in response.
“These dealers are already perpetuating fraud on so many levels in the interest of windfall profits, so it’s hard to imagine that they will suddenly be bothered about putting potentially toxic horns into circulation. The prospect of human suffering deters few criminals and that’s what we are dealing with here”, says Tom Milliken, author of a TRAFFIC report on rhino horn consumption in Vietnam.
A total of 145 rhinos have been poached in Kruger National Park alone this year, thus fears that poaching could increase in areas such as this as a result of this programme could be well founded.
Read more on this story at The Guardian – South African game reserve poisons rhino’s horns to prevent poaching.
Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author