How a Pink Poison Could Save the Rhinoceros from Extinction

A new, poisonous treatment may be the best way to save the endangered species. 

Rhinos are getting a makeover, and it may save them from extinction.


People have been poaching the animal for centuries. In some traditional Chinese medicines, the rhinoceros horn is used for a multitude of cures from nausea to snakebites. Some of these recipes date back 2,000 years. Many in Vietnam say that rhino horns can be used to cure both hangovers and cancer. Once the horn is ground into a powder, many ingest it to use it as a medicine. They are also used in several kinds of jewelry, the “ivory” horn considered beautiful and rare.  

Despite the fact that poaching of rhinos is illegal, poaching is driving the rhino toward extinction. A rhino horn can be worth up to $30,000 per pound on the black market. Many poachers see it as a risk well worth taking. With the value of the rhino horn on the rise, poachers are often heavily armed (and sometimes protected by armed gangs), making them dangerous to approach. So rhino conservationists needed to find a more wily way to save the animal.

What they've come up with is called "Pink Poison," a dye that's injected into the horn. The name is alarming, but the technique doesn’t actually hurt the rhinoceros. In fact, it is only dangerous to humans, as it is "eco-friendly, biodegradable, and vulture-safe." Veterinarians approach a rhino, and then tranquilize it. Once asleep, they drill a hole into the horn, and inject the "pink poison" dye, which discolors the inside of the horn.

This initiative has been accompanied by an ad campaign warning poachers that the dye makes the horn indigestible. To add an extra kick of irony, symptoms include the very ones the rhino horn is supposed to cure, including nausea and diarrhea. It renders the rhino horn useless as a medicine, and discourages any poacher from trying to sell the horn.

The point is to lower the value of the rhino horn. Currently, they’re near equal in worth to gold and cocaine, making even pet rhinos almost impossible to insure. The dye only lasts four years, but it is one of the first real plans to stop poaching.  Rhino Rescue Project reports "losses of treated rhinos (to poaching or otherwise) total less than 2 percent of all animals treated." It's an unlikely solution, but now there is a way to help save the rhino. 

While poisoning the rhino horn greatly reduces "medical" poaching, it hasn't had the same impact on the jewelry trade. The rhino horn, often thought to be ivory, is often carved into jewelry or sculpture. As the pink can be bleached out, it hasn't lowered those sales. But while opportunities for innovation remain, the Rhino Rescue Project is still very happy with the positive results it's received so far. 

Image credit: fkalltheway / Flickr

Related Articles
Playlists
Keep reading Show less

Five foods that increase your psychological well-being

These five main food groups are important for your brain's health and likely to boost the production of feel-good chemicals.

Mind & Brain

We all know eating “healthy” food is good for our physical health and can decrease our risk of developing diabetes, cancer, obesity and heart disease. What is not as well known is that eating healthy food is also good for our mental health and can decrease our risk of depression and anxiety.

Keep reading Show less

For the 99%, the lines are getting blurry

Infographics show the classes and anxieties in the supposedly classless U.S. economy.

What is the middle class now, anyway? (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs

For those of us who follow politics, we’re used to commentators referring to the President’s low approval rating as a surprise given the U.S.'s “booming” economy. This seeming disconnect, however, should really prompt us to reconsider the measurements by which we assess the health of an economy. With a robust U.S. stock market and GDP and low unemployment figures, it’s easy to see why some think all is well. But looking at real U.S. wages, which have remained stagnant—and have, thus, in effect gone down given rising costs from inflation—a very different picture emerges. For the 1%, the economy is booming. For the rest of us, it’s hard to even know where we stand. A recent study by Porch (a home-improvement company) of blue-collar vs. white-collar workers shows how traditional categories are becoming less distinct—the study references "new-collar" workers, who require technical certifications but not college degrees. And a set of recent infographics from CreditLoan capturing the thoughts of America’s middle class as defined by the Pew Research Center shows how confused we are.

Keep reading Show less