Rhino horns poisoned to put off poachers

23 December 2011 - 16:02 By Sapa
A rhino. File picture
A rhino. File picture

A Western Cape game reserve owner has injected his rhinos' horns with poison in a bid to prevent poaching.

"We hope that it will inform poachers, it [poaching at the reserve] is going to be a waste of time," said Inverdoorn reserve owner, Damian Vergnaud, on Friday.

He said he had approached scientists and his vet to assist him in finding a new way of protecting his rhinos.

"Dehorning, it's very painful for the animals. It's traumatising and it makes them look different.

"I really wanted to create a different defence system."

Vergnaud said that an operation whereby three substances were injected into the horns of two female rhinos and a calf took place at the reserve, outside Cape Town, on Thursday.

The first substance injected was a dye -- the same product used to foil cash-in-transit robbers by marking the bank notes if the box they were kept in, was forced open.

Vergnaud said the dye would appear in the inside of the horn, making it useless for decorative purposes.

The handle of a dagger called a jambiya -- and which is popular in Yemen -- is often made of rhino horn.

The second substance that was injected was used to make the horn visible on an X-ray scanner -- to ensure poachers could not get away with smuggling them through border control machinery.

The third substance, called barium and which is designed by Denel, had an off-putting taste and would make anyone who tried to ingest it, mildly ill.

"It tastes very bad if you put it into your mouth. You can't swallow it, it is just too disgusting. Even if someone is crazy enough to swallow it, it will just cause some diarrhoea and nausea.

"It's harmless no one can die from it."

The rhinos would experience no side effects from the substances in their horns.

Vergnaud said he was happy to share his solution with other people trying to protect rhinos. He said he had already been approached to help prevent poaching in Botswana.

He said that since rhino horns grew over time, the procedure would have to be repeated every three to four years.

South Africa has been assaulted by a spate of rhino poaching this year.

Just last week, four poachers were arrested in Hoedspruit in Limpopo after they were found with two horns, two rifles and an axe. A carcass was discovered in the area at the time of their arrest.

In Germiston last week, a Chinese national, Hsu Hsien Lung, was sentenced to six years imprisonment for the possession of two rhino horns without a permit.

Hawks spokesman Colonol McIntosh Polela said at the time: "If the criminals who are decimating these animals are not stopped, the country could lose this part of its heritage forever".

Seventy-eight suspected poachers were arrested in the Kruger National Park, alone, this year.

The number of rhinos killed in the country has gone over the 400-mark, compared to 333 killed in 2010, according to SA National Parks statistics.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, three of the five rhino species globally are critically endangered.

This year, the fund declared that rhinos in Vietnam have gone extinct.

Rhino horn is apparently highly sought after in Asia for medicinal purposes.

According to the Save the Rhino website, at the turn of the 19th century, there were approximately one million rhinos.

Today, fewer than 24,500 survive in the wild, with the vast majority of these found in South Africa.