Although it is encouraging that the concept of horn devaluation as a proactive and preventative anti-poaching measure is gaining greater acceptance and momentum globally, it is unfortunate that much of the recent interest in such initiatives seems to be based on embellishment and misinformation rather than on the facts.
Images like those doing the rounds on social media (of rhinos and elephants sporting digitally altered pink horns and tusks) create unrealistic expectations about what the technique entails and how it is intended to combat poaching.
The truth is that horn devaluation is a much more involved process than simply dyeing the surface of a horn pink (or any other colour, for that matter). No buyer/consumer of rhino horn should ever be encouraged to consume or handle treated horns purely because no outward signs of devaluation may be present, especially as ongoing research has resulted in the use of newer technologies, like radioactive isotopes, instead of relying solely on infusions with toxins and dyes.
In short, rhino horns are not stained pink on their surface for two primary reasons:
1. The colour would not be visible for long enough to act as a deterrent, as the animals groom their horns down and wallow in mud on a daily basis
2. Visibly discolouring horns makes every other animal in a population without a coloured horn an even softer target for poachers
Although it may be fun to imagine herds of rhino roaming the African savannah with pretty pink horns, one has to guard against reducing a scientific intervention to nothing more than a frivolous Facebook or Twitter rumour. For those interested in reading more about, and understanding the origins of the (now infamous, thanks to the Internet…!) “pink horns”, Rhino Rescue Project’s website is a good starting point to do so.
Information supplied by RRP.
This is a genuine gamma camera photograph done by an experienced technician at one of South Africa’s hospitals. The only digital addition here, is the text. Here is the info about the photo:
“A sneaky screen grab of the way a standard infusion spreads inside a horn when tracked through the use of radioactive isotopes, photographed with a gamma camera. As most people know, it has been an ongoing challenge for RRP to determine what exactly happens inside a rhino horn during an infusion (largely due to the fact that we battled for three years just to obtain a permit to dissect horns for our research). Now, finally, the use of nuclear medicine has made the invisible, visible. And what a visual it is…! Just a little preview of a whole host of test results we hope to release soon.”
So, there are no rhinos or elephants walking around with pink horns or tusks. In fact, elephant tusks have never been treated.