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Rhino horn- Miracle drug?


The world’s varied species of rhinoceros have been brought to the periphery of extinction because of human appetite for their distinctive horns. The horns have been prized for tens of centuries for their beautiful translucent color when carved, and their supposed healing properties.

Historical mentions of other uses for the horns date back thousands of years. In Greek mythology, they were said to possess the ability to purify water. The ancient Persians of the 5th century BC thought that vessels carved from the horn could be used to detect poisoned liquids, the belief that persisted into the 18th and 19th centuries among the royal courts of Europe.

Unlike the horns of most animals, which have a bony core covered by a relatively thin layer of keratin, rhino horns are keratin all the way through — although the precise chemical composition of the keratin will vary depending on a rhino’s diet and geographic location.

The studies also revealed that the centers of the horns have dense mineral deposits of calcium and melanin — a finding that may explain the curve and sharp tip of the horns. The calcium would strengthen the horn while the melanin would protect the core from being degraded by ultraviolet radiation from the sun.

Rhino horn elixirs for fevers and liver problems were first prescribed in traditional Chinese medicine more than 1,800 years ago. Moreover it is considered one much influencing reason for the rise of rhino horn demand in East Asian countries. There is a belief that the horn can filter out any foreign substance in the body, detoxify and cleanse the human blood circulatory system. Major buyers are in East Asia, who purchases the horn for US $11,500.

Vietnam’s status-seeking new rich have become the world’s largest consumer group of rhino horn, spurring demand and the continued slaughter of rhinos in South Africa. Vietnam’s tally of multimillionaires has grown 150% in the last five years. The Convention on the International Trade on Endangered Species notes that this rising wealth is “inflating a bubble of demand for rhino horn”, it is more of an status symbol for the new rich in the country.

Another key group of Vietnamese consumers is people with serious illnesses, in particular cancer, who believe rhino horn can cure them despite the lack of any medical evidence. The Vietnamese rhino horn craze has caused an unprecedented surge in rhino poaching throughout Africa and Asia.

The ongoing interest in rhino horn in these countries is not just about ‘medicine’. These are societies that continue to revere rhino horn for a complex cocktail of factors including aesthetic qualities, associations of status and elitism, deeply entrenched healing traditions and national and cultural pride.

If we can start to grasp this complex and deeply-rooted Asian cultural affinity towards rhino horn – and move beyond misguided populist Western views of rhino horn being sought as an aphrodisiac or quack medicine based on a cancer-curing myth – we stand a far better chance of finding a sensible lasting solution to the problem of rhino poaching.

With the entire myths aside there has been no depletion or surge in number of cancer patients in Vietnam, people who have been ingesting rhino horn powder for long time have shown no signs of recovery as such, then why are they pelting huge amounts of money for such purpose? The neo rich of the nation want to stay healthy and are abusing the weak by demanding for something that would not make them any healthy.

It is a question of common sense that one needs to follow, if the horn powder that they are buying worth millions has scientifically failed to show results in curing the deadly diseases why waste money on in and be fooled by the myth. Economic miracle goes hand in hand for rhino horn purchase in Vietnam.

To solve the problem of rhino poaching, all those concerned with saving rhinos should engage in open and honest dialogue. African and Asian rhino owners and custodians, global conservation NGOs and Asian consumers of rhino products should all ultimately share the same objective: to prevent the extinction of wild rhino populations.

It is also important that the myth of miracle of rhino horn be decoded so as to get rid of those who have hopes of healing from ailments. It is necessary that proper research be carried on and the results be published to make sure it reaches the crowd who support the purchase of the horn. The greed of man for possession of ornate objects that call for killing of innocent animals needs to be stopped and penalized heavily.

PUBLISHED: Sat, Mar 14th, 2015. By Op – eds
Copyright © New Delhi Times

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