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White Rhino and Baby
Credit: Valentina Storti (fwooper7 on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Seized hornsukhomeoffice on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericI recently read an article in Discovery News titled South Africa Mulls Legalizing Rhino Horn Trade and thought, 'how does something with no medicinal value become such a huge commodity? Are people really that gullible?'

Apparently, yes. But the good news is that a poll conducted by Nielsen for the Vietnam Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and Humane Society International (HSI) has revealed a 38 percent drop in demand for rhino horn since August 2013.

The director of the wildlife department for HSI, Teresa M. Telecky, Ph.D., is quoted in an October 16th, 2014 post Word is Spreading in Viet Nam: Rhino Horn Isn't Medicine:

"Insatiable demand for rhino horn is driving rhinos to the brink of extinction, so reducing that demand is absolutely crucial. These poll results demonstrate that, even in a relatively short period of time, our demand reduction campaign has succeeded in significantly and dramatically altering public perception and influenced behavior. The results offer a vital ray of hope for the survival of rhinos."

The seized horns (at right) taken on February 19th, 2013 by ukhomeoffice on flickr states they were "seized by Border Force, which made more than 675 wildlife crime seizures last year. Border Force has a well established and highly regarded specialist team who deal with illegal goods under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)."

What Is Rhino Horn Really Used For?

Sana'a Street - Yemen 1982 - They were Manchester UnitedGareth Williams (gareth1953 on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericIt's a myth that rhino horn is consumed as some type aphrodisiac or that it helps with erectile function.

Culturally, 12-year-old Yemeni boys are given jambiya (curved daggers) with handles made of rhino horn. Often, these rhino horn handles are also adorned with jewels. These daggers are considered a sign of manhood and religious devotion. The handle also signifies the status of the man who wears it.

According to a PBS Nature post, rhino horn in China has been used for centuries; though, to a lesser degree for ceremonial cups, paperweights, hair pins, belt buckles, and buttons.

By far, the most common reason that rhino horn is sought after is for its supposed medicinal effects and some long-standing beliefs that date back centuries ago. According to Greek mythology, rhino horn could purify water. In 5th century BC, ancient Persians thought it could detect poisoned liquids - even the royal courts of Europe believed this into the 18th and 19th centuries.

Two Rhino Horns Wrapped in Plastic Cling Film

Were Found Concealed in a False Sculpture

Rhino horn in packaging taken on September 14th, 2010
Credit: ukhomeoffice on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

As a Gift or Sign of Affluence

This came as a shock to me. In a 2013 NPR article by Frank Langfitt titled Vietnam's Appetite For Rhino Horn Drives Poaching In Africa, rhino horn is also given as gifts - even to government officials. It's become a sign of affluence and is quite popular in social circles as a hangover cure for binge drinkers.

Alcohol Poisoning PSA Video ShootStop Alcohol Deaths, Inc. on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericThe article describes a 65-year-old Vietnamese government official who began using rhino horn to "recover from drinking binges with contractors."

He stated, "Every time I drank alcohol, I'd go home and grind the horn and drink it. An hour later, I'd throw up and feel sober again."

Well, I thought, if you drink too much, you'll probably throw up anyways.

But is there any scientific proof that rhino horn can help with various ailments? I found it astonishing to read that rhino horn "improves general health" and "prevents illness." Even stranger claims include its usefulness in treating: allergies, cancer, gout, liver problems, fever, to detoxify the body, rheumatism, snakebites, to improve blood quality, carbuncles, hallucinations, food poisoning, typhoid, headaches, "devil possession" and (oddly) vomiting.

Wait, didn't it cause vomiting in the binge drinker?

Up next is a 1-minute video clip I found on YouTube published on Feb 10th, 2014 by eNCAnews under a Standard YouTube license. It's an excerpt from a BBC documentary which shows how rhino horn is prepared for an undercover journalist. 

Author's note: I could not find any creative commons licensed photos of rhino horn grinding bowls - but check out the one in this video, it even has a rhino logo on it. One vendor reported selling 10,000 of these bowls in 2012.

Rhino Horn Trader Mixes 'Potion' for BBC Reporter

All Five Rhino Species Are Threatened With Extinction

Rhino horns (taken on October 23rd, 2014)USFWS on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericThe World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Humane Society International (HSI) also recognize that habitat loss (especially in India and southeast Asia) are negatively impacting rhino populations. 

Yet what surprised me is the number of traditional medical practitioners that stockpile rhino horn. Incredibly, 60 percent keep it on hand and 27 percent felt it was "essential to their work."

When I read a 2013 article by Gwynn Guilford in The Atlantic, I was saddened to learn a woman in Vietnam bought $2,000 worth of rhino horn powder on a doctor's advice. Vietnam's cancer mortality rate is 73 percent - one of the highest in the world, explained a deputy director at a Hanoi hospital.

By the time most people in Vietnam are diagnosed with cancer, an overwhelming majority are already in the late stages. So for some, any miracle cure offered is worth the price. In 2013, rhino horn was sold for as much as $100,000 per kilogram - making it more expensive than gold.

Rhinos (South Africa)
Credit: BOMBMAN (ajay_g on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Scientific Studies

2014-05-04 AspirinRoger Mulligan (rogerdmulligan on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericIn 1990, researchers at a Hong Kong university showed that large amounts of rhino, water buffalo, or Saiga antelope horn extracts slightly lowered fever in rats. But the human dose prescribed by a traditional medical practitioner is much lower than what was needed to see a measurable result in rats.

Another fact is that the keratin in rhino horn is, for the most part, undigestible.  The protein keratin is found in hair, nails, hooves, and horns. Even though most of it would pass right through someone's digestive tract, I'm guessing it might also absorb some toxins - such as alcohol.

In the PBS article Rhino Horn Use: Fact vs. Fiction, it states, "Many poisons are strongly alkaline (or basic), and may have reacted chemically with the keratin."

From everything I've researched for this article, a baby aspirin would probably provide more fever or pain relief than rhino horn would.

Hopefully, as the word spreads that rhino horn is merely an expensive placebo, demand for it will decrease further. Thank you for reading and sharing my article.

Rhinos
Credit: Nonprofit Organizations on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
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