I’ve recently seen images on social media of rhinos with pink horns. Do your treatments really make horns pink?

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). Focusing on one component of a multi-pronged strategy to the exclusion of all others is not only misleading in that it belies the complexity of the procedure, but could also prove potentially harmful to both animals and humans. 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 our ongoing research has resulted in the use of newer technologies, like radioactive isotopes, instead of relying solely on infusions with toxins and dyes. If anything, it is these new techniques that should be discussed and promoted in the public domain, instead of an outdated, and often misunderstood, methodology. 

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 

Rhino Rescue Project actively attempts to debunk the myths surrounding devaluation perpetuated by rumours like this, if and when we are made aware of them. As with all poaching interventions, we would recommend that interested parties engage in their own research to ascertain the facts before mindlessly sharing and reposting factually incorrect information that could actually be detrimental to the cause. 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 into nothing more than a frivolous Facebook or Twitter rumour. 

Social media is a valuable tool, in that it gives us an opportunity to engage and to educate more people about conservation issues, which is ever a bad thing. Also, any media coverage that encourages individuals to think creatively about ways to solve the poaching problem whilst also keeping the issue “top of mind”, can surely never be considered a bad thing either. Because, let’s face it – at this point, rhinos need all the help they can get.

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