Friday, May 13, 2011

Message from Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve of South Africa


“All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph, is for enough good men to do nothing” - Edmund Burke

With the number of rhinos lost to poaching rapidly approaching 300 in this year alone (in fact, this figure is already outdated, the total number now stands at 304) the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve is of the opinion that we are well beyond the point where we can afford to do nothing about the dire poaching situation in South Africa.

After a poaching incident on our Reserve at the end of May this year, we contemplated many conventional means to fight the poaching scourge: from de-horning of animals to microchips and tracking devices. The problem we found with all of these alternatives, however, is that they are largely reactive instead of proactive, and would in all likelihood not deter poachers from targeting a particular property. Therefore, they become valuable tools in the arsenal of anti-poaching weapons only after yet another animal has been murdered and mutilated for its horn.

Logic would seem to dictate that the true point of origin for a permanent solution would be to eliminate the demand for a product like rhino horn altogether. Needless to say, education would go a long way towards teaching consumers that rhino horn contains no nutritional or medicinal value. However, education will not produce an immediate result, and results are what we need most at this point.

It is no secret that, in the weeks immediately after the poaching of our beloved rhino cow, Queenstown, we seriously considered poisoning our rhino’s horns. However, as we proceeded with research into the feasibility of doing so, we liaised with other researchers working on different challenges affecting the health of rhino’s in general. Of particular interest to us was work being done on the control of ecto-parasites (ticks etc.) through the treatment of the horn with depot ectoparasitacides.

So our original idea of poisoning the horns was circumvented by the need to treat the horn, and thus the animal, against parasites instead. Furthermore, our legal advisors strongly advised against the idea of intentionally poisoning horns. Ectoparasitacides are not intended for consumption by humans, and are registered as such. Although not lethal in small quantities, they remain extremely toxic, and symptoms of accidental ingestion may include, but are not limited to, severe nausea, vomiting, convulsions and/or nervous symptoms, in extreme cases.

Because of these side-effects, the treated rhino and their horns have to be visibly identifiable to avoid ingestion of treated horns by people. We then realised that the treatment of the horns with a mixture of ectoparasitacides coupled with an indelible dye would go a long way to helping us achieve our goal of protecting all rhino’s in South Africa from poaching. This dye, similar to products used in the banking industry, is visible on an x-ray scanner and thus a treated horn, even when ground to a fine powder, cannot be passed through security checkpoints unnoticed.

Specifically, airport security checkpoints are almost certain to pick up the presence of this dye. Furthermore, in the selection of acaracides for inclusion in the treatment compound, care was taken to only consider “Ox Pecker” friendly acaricides so that collateral damage to innocent animals and other organisms is limited. And so, the Rhino Rescue Project was born. Our testing is ongoing and comprehensive to ensure that the animals are in no way harmed by the administration of such a treatment, and to determine how long a single treatment may last. Based on our research, we believe the treatment should remain effective for approximately three years, after which re-administration would be required.

Because all of our rhino’s are wild (with the exception of poaching orphans that are being hand-reared) they would not normally be treated against parasites. We believe strongly in nature being allowed to run its course, and human intervention being kept to a minimum. However, upon realising that treatment could potentially neutralise a dual threat (both poaching and parasites) we decided to proceed with testing and subsequent treatment.

The treatment compound at this stage consists of a carefully mixed “coctail” of drugs in which exact quantities of each substance are paramount to ensure the animal and other organisms remain unharmed whilst still delivering enough potency for humans to present with symptoms upon ingestion. As mentioned before, this approach is unique for the simple reason that it eliminates demand for poaching, instead of focusing solely on stopping the activities surrounding the poaching itself. If consumers are no longer willing to pay exorbitant prices for rhino horn, poachers may think twice before engaging in this dangerous activitiy and running the risk of getting caught without a substantial financial reward as trade-off.

To further empower us in the ongoing war against poaching, the Rhino Rescue Project proposes that, when an animal is temporarily immobilised for the sake of receiving this treatment, a simultaneous harvesting of genetic material (a DNA sample, in other words) be done. Information from this sample can then be added to a national database of treated animals, with the aim of aiding the legal community in securing prosecutions in cases where treated horns are poached.

We also enlisted the help of dog training experts to train sniffer dogs in detecting rhino horn shavings. At this stage of their training, the specialist dogs are so adept at identifying the scent of rhino horn that they can detect miniscule quantities of powdered horn inside vehicles and pieces of luggage. These dogs can further track a poacher fleeing a property on foot by following the scent of the rhino horn alone. This confirms the notion that instead of attempting to eradicate poaching with a single weapon of choice, a holistic, multi-pronged approach is neccesary to control the problem. When coupled with other measures like anti-poaching patrols, fast and effective reaction units and proper policing, the Rhino Rescue Project initiative becomes a cost-effective, commercially viable alternative to stopping poaching once and for all.

Trade in rhino horn is illegal, and thus, anyone who knowingly purchases and consumes rhino horn is involved in a criminal activity. Even if the use of rhino horn in some countries may be deemed culturally acceptable, it remains illegal all the same. We should emphasise that we do not want to kill anybody. In fact, nothing would make us happier than if no human ever again touched a rhino horn. However, since this appears highly unlikely under the current circumstances, we want poachers and the consumers of their products to know that we mean business. The treatment administered to our animals is no joke. It is not a ruse; it is not a hoax; it is not a mock-up. It is as real as poaching and its consequences can be every bit as devastating. The importance and seriousness of this cautionary advice is not to be underestimated. That having been said, if individuals still proceed in the harvesting, sale, purchase and consumption of rhino horn, having been fully informed that it could potentially pose serious health risks (to this end, we have placed in excess of 200 signposts warning of the contamination in and around our property) they do so at their peril.

In conclusion, our plans to release a one-hour special Rhino Rescue programme on the treatment process and the consequences thereof are rapidly coming to fruition. The show is currently in it’s editing and post-production phase and will be available for international distribution within weeks, under condition that the distributor/broadcaster is willing to translate the content into Mandarin Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese and to distribute the material actively in these countries as well. Rhino’s have no other way of defending themselves against the greed and ruthlessness of man but for the defences we give them. The Rhino Rescue Project has armed the rhinos of the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve and encourages you to do the same.

For any further information, cost estimates or to register animals for treatment, kindly contact Lorinda Hern at

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