Thursday, 5 April 2012

Stop Rhino Poaching - With Fingernails?

One sad moment from an otherwise outstanding safari in South Africa was to hear about the ongoing threat to the black rhino from poaching. An issue that was graphically illustrated via a poster in the Bayethe lodge in the Shamwari reserve, showing the carcasses of two well known rhino that had been butchered for their horns in the reserve as recently as last November. The absurd superstition – let’s not mince words here – in certain parts of the world that consumption of rhino horn improves health continues to endanger this great animal.

What is rhino horn, anyway? It’s keratin. The same substance that animals’ hooves are made from. And indeed human fingernails and toenails. We can only wonder what possessed the misguided fool who first looked upon the unique attribute of a rhino in the dim and distant past, oblivious to the hooves on the thousands of antelopes sharing the wild plains, and thought that if he killed the rhino, cut the horn off, ground it up and consumed the end product, he would end up strong and healthy. As for the malevolent intermediaries who encouraged the superstition to profit from it while the black rhino became ever more endangered...

OK, so here’s a couple of solutions. First, how about collecting a few tons of fingernail and toenail clippings, moulding them into the form of rhino horn via whatever ingenious process of glueing, dyeing and heat treatment might be devised, and selling them to the traffickers? All with a view to blowing the whistle a few months down the line when the consumers will have unwittingly ingested a substance that they would otherwise have clipped off themselves and discarded after wrinkling their noses at its characteristic odour. Surely that would crash the market and show up the superstition for exactly what it was.

As for the poachers, handlers, traffickers and other associated members of the process, I can do no more than recall a conversation with an experienced South African tourist guide in Knysna shortly after the safari came to an end. My suggestion that anyone caught red handed in connection with rhino poaching ought perhaps to be spared trial and conviction, and simply turned loose in the remote bush without food or water, produced an immediate response: “Kneecap them first.”

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