Rhinos Have Horns ‘Poisoned’ So Poachers Won’t Kill Them

Julia Banim

| Last updated 

Conservationists poison rhino horns to protect them from poachers.Pexels/Caters

In a bid to ward off potential poachers, conservationists from the Rhino Rescue Project are ‘poisoning’ the horns of rhinos in South Africa.

This ‘poison’, made from animal-friendly toxins (ectoparasiticides) and indelible dye, does not harm the treated rhinos. However, the substance can have various negative effects for humans.

If ingested by humans, this poison can result in issues such as severe nausea, vomiting and varying degrees of convulsions. These effects will depend upon the amount a human has ingested.


28-year-old photographer Teagan Cunniffe has captured the horn treatment process with a beautifully tragic series of photographs, showing the lengths conservationists must now go through to protect the majestic wild animals, taken June 6.

The photographs depict dedicated conservationists deliberately devaluing the horns of rhinos, offering them protection from potential poachers.

Teagan said:

The treatment lasts between three to five years, a full horn growth cycle, thereafter it needs to be re-administered.

This costs £400 [R8000] for the entire operation, including ground crew and materials. My photographs show the process of the horn treatment by Rhino Rescue Project and The Ant Collection, from location and darting through to rhino, Mokolo’s recovery.

Conservationists poison rhino horns to protect them from poachers.Caters

Poachers usually sell rhino horns throughout Asia to be used in traditional Chinese medicine. These severed horns can be sold on the black market for more than £40,000 each.

Teagan continued:

My favourite capture is the drone image of the people involved in Mokolo’s treatment process.

I wanted the shadows of the humans to be the main feature: the faceless guardians of a vulnerable rhino. We are the only ones who can save this species from extinction.

This is a hugely successful proactive anti-poaching effort, and I believe that all rhinos should undergo this treatment process.

Conservationists poison rhino horns to protect them from poachers.
Conservationists poison rhino horns to protect them from poachers.

According to the Rhino Rescue Project website:

We realise that this approach is but ‘one arrow in the quiver’ against poaching, and we do not suggest that it be seen as a long-term solution, nor that it be implemented in isolation or as a substitute for other reasonable security measures.

Instead, we believe it to be a means to ‘buy time’ for ourselves and our rhino, while we investigate all potential long-term strategies thoroughly.

Conservationists poison rhino horns to protect them from poachers.Caters

Rhino Rescue Project workers have performed these innovative horn procedures since 2011, following a poaching incident at the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve in Gauteng, South Africa in 2010. Shocked that poachers had targetted such a small reserve, they decided to take action.

At the time of writing, just two per cent of the treated rhinos have died, with their deaths being due to a combination of both poaching and natural causes.

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Topics: Animals, South Africa


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Julia Banim
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