What does the treatment entail?

The horn is treated by infusing it with a compound made up of depot ectoparasiticides and indelible dye that contaminates the horn and renders it useless for ornamental or medicinal use. A full DNA sample is harvested and three identification microchips are inserted into the horns and the animal itself. At the owner’s discretion a tracking device can also be fitted.

What is the reason for treating the horn?

Aside from health benefits to the rhinos, it is the hope of the Rhino Rescue Project that the treatment of the horn will deter poachers and prevent the rhino being killed in the first place, because with a horn stripped of (perceived) medicinal and ornamental value, the animal is a less attractive target.

How was the treatment developed?

Following a poaching on their reserve in 2010, Rhino Rescue Project started researching a number of possible solutions to prevent the poaching of another animal and in the process, heard about a group of wildlife vets researching the treatment and management of ectoparasites on rhino in captivity through the infusion of depot ectoparasiticides into the horn. Since many reserves are dependent on tourists as its major source of income, dehorning of animals is not always deemed to be a practical solution – especially since dehorned rhinos often still get poached for the base of their horns.  Furthermore, some research studies have indicated that dehorning can have adverse impacts on the animal’s social structures and breeding patterns. Frequent darting of large mammals, as is required for dehorning to be an effective deterrent, leads to increased health risks and is often the cause of an animal’s life span being shortened substantially.

Is this treatment legal?

Yes. The Rhino Rescue Project horn treatment methodology is the only legally recognised treatment option available at present (a full legal opinion is available upon request).

Treatment compounds are infused into the horn using a system through which a high-pressure device forces liquids into the tubular structure of the horn (patent pending). The system was designed by RRP’s wildlife veterinarian, Dr Charles van Niekerk.

What steps have been taken to prevent treated horns being accidently ingested?

The fact that the rhino’s on a reserve are treated is widely publicised by means of 200+ signposts around the reserve’s perimeter and, should a treated rhino be killed, the indelible dye should be immediately visible inside the horn (especially in the channel where it was inserted) – a clear indication that the horn had been tampered with. The dye is similar to products used in the banking industry and has the added benefit that it is visible on an x-ray scanner and UV light.  Thus a treated horn, even when ground to a fine powder, cannot be passed through many security checkpoints unnoticed. Airport security checkpoints, especially, are almost certain to pick up the presence of the dye.  The dye cannot be removed in any way and this contamination should also discourage ornamental use of horns. The dye is 100% organic and biodegradable. We also strongly suggest involving staff in the horn treatment process to assist as their involvement ensures that word about the treatment spreads rapidly via the “bush telegraph”.

What are depot ectoparasiticides?

Registered depot ectoparasiticides are freely available over-the-counter antiparasitic drugs used to treat ectoparasitic infestations, where parasitic organisms live primarily on the surface of the host. All products are used exactly as directed in terms of their classification under Act 36 of 1947 (Fertilizers, Farm Feeds, Agricultural Remedies and Stock Remedies Act).  The products are registered to treat ectoparasites in cattle, horses and sheep, so the only extra-label use is that it is being used on rhino instead. This treatment benefits the rhino owner, does not harm the environment, does not harm other living organisms, has no adverse effects on tourism or the economy, is cost-effective, legal and can be completed in under an hour. In other words, it is a minimally-invasive procedure intended to uphold the status quo with regard to the trade in animal parts.

Are the products poisonous?

The selections of depot ectoparasiticides for inclusion in the treatment compound are registered for use in animals and only Ox- Pecker friendly and Vulture safe products have been used. Ectoparasiticides are not intended for consumption by humans, and are registered as such.  Although not lethal in small quantities, they are toxic, and symptoms of accidental ingestion may include, but are not limited to, severe nausea, vomiting and convulsions (all dosage-dependent).

What if an animal is injured by a treated horn (ie. in a fight between two rhino)?

There are no side-effects. It is the same as cattle with open lesions being sent through a cattle crush. There are no adverse effects on the animal. The only risks the animals face with this procedure are the risks normally associated with the immobilization of large animals like rhinos.

Are you trying to harm or kill consumers of illegal rhino horn?

No.  The compounds are toxic, but non-lethal in small quantities.  Research into quantities of rhino horn used for medicinal purposes has indicated that no more than a pinch of ground horn is generally used at one time. Horn treatments are meant to deter poachers and keep rhinos alive – not to harm humans. Furthermore, new research indicates that the medicinal use of rhino horn is being eclipsed by the purchase of horns as so-called “status products”.

Is treatment expensive?

The treatment is fairly cost-effective when compared to other anti-poaching alternatives and has the added benefit of being one of the only truly proactive measures to curb poaching, whereas many others (like DNA sampling and microchipping alone) only become valuable weapons in the arsenal once an animal has been poached, not before.

Is the treatment effective?

To date, losses of treated rhinos (to poaching or otherwise) total less than 2% of all animals treated. Furthermore, animals treated to date are in excellent health.  The first commercial treatments were administered approximately 3 years ago.  Three cows (that were pregnant at the time of treatment) gave birth to healthy calves, all of which lactated normally and two cows fell pregnant subsequent to the treatment being done.  Owners of treated rhino on other reserves have also reported no negative effects and were happy with the decrease in visible parasites. However, as with other interim measures aimed at preventing poaching, treatment is, of course, not a 100% guarantee against poaching. No “silver bullet” solution exists as yet.

Does the treatment affect legal trophy hunting?

No, not at all. Because the indelible dye is not visible with the naked eye, there is no reason why treatment should affect the trophy hunting trade.  Reputable hunting farms whose business is true trophy hunting should, in principal, easily reconcile themselves with having horns treated since the horns are not to be removed from the rhino anyway. Unscrupulous game farmers have managed to trade in horns unchecked, under the guise of legal hunting, and have thus been feeding the demand from the virtually insatiable market.  Only those individuals who are interested more in the horn and less in a trophy could possibly have objections to having horns treated.

How long does the treatment remain effective?

The Rhino Rescue Project horn treatment should remain effective for approximately three to four years (a full horn growth cycle), after which re-administration would be required.

What are the long-term effects of the treatment?

Since all the products used are biodegradable and eco-friendly, there are no long-term effects on the environment.  The treatment “grows” out with the horn and so poses no long-term effect and, if a treated animal dies of natural causes, retrieval and registration of the horn is a legal requirement.

Is the treatment programme intended as a long-term solution?

It is our hope that by the time the treatment needs to be reapplied, a more sustainable solution would have been found rendering re-administration unnecessary.  We see the treatment purely as a means to “buy time” while a long-term solution is being researched.  No long-term solution, whether it be legalisation of trade or otherwise, is likely to be implemented within the next four years.  Therefore, a rhino horn treated today for the purposes of keeping the animal alive, could, in principal, be sold, should the animal’s owner desire to do so after the four year growth cycle has elapsed and the horn is once again free of any compounds.

Moreover, AON Insurance and underwriters ONE have come onboard with the treatment and offer insurance for the procedure itself as well as an option of expanding to include comprehensive insurance cover against poaching for animals with treated horns.

© Rhino Rescue Project (2013)