Conservationists divided on idea of poisoned horns

An article alleging that a Thai man has died after consuming a “purposely contaminated Rhino horn thought to be from a private game farm somewhere in southern Africa” has set the conservation community abuzz.

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The article, dated 18 August, apparently appeared in a newspaper called Bangkok Star but is widely believed to be a hoax.
“I can’t find any verification that a Bangkok Star exists. More than that, the article was unprofessionally written. I think it originated in Gauteng, and is merely disinformation aimed at the consumer market,” said Faan Coetzee, who heads the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s law and policy programme.

The dubious authenticity of the report has not stopped an upsurge of support for poisoning horns to deter consumption.
Some 182 rhino have been poached to date this year, and it’s predicted that the total may reach 300 by the end of the year – a record number.

“If we poisoned every rhino horn in South Africa it would cost R65 million. That’s money down the drain,” said Coetzee. “Also, if you poison the outside of the horn and that rhino fights with another rhino, the poison could kill the other.
“If you use poison for an activity it hasn’t been registered for, it’s a criminal offence.”

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Wildlife Ranching South Africa chairperson Pelham Jones disagreed. “An individual shouldn’t have a horn in the first place, there’s a ban on that,” he said.

“You must appreciate that rhino owners have lost more than R200 million in asset value, and government support has not been anywhere near where I believe it should be. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and if you’ve lost an animal which was like a child to you, the anger is huge, and maybe people are going for crazy options, taking this fight one step further.”

Jones said he couldn’t comment on the veracity of the article, but he heard rumours that rhino owners were poisoning the horns of living rhinos, and also that stockpiled horns were being poisoned. “I can’t confirm whether these rumours are true or not, but the warning bells should be ringing in the consumer market,” he said.