The Truth About the Rhino Horn

The last few years have been a time where South Africans have come together in a desperate attempt to try and counteract rhino poaching in and around our borders. The majestic rhino horn has had the grave misfortune of being associated with traditional medicine, particularly in Asian countries, which have pushed back against the world’s pressure to stop buying rhino horns, especially considering there is no evidence whatsoever that there are any medical benefits to it. However, despite incredible efforts and investments into anti-poaching schemes by African countries, poaching is still a serious problem.

In light of this, lets discuss the composition of the rhino horn. What does science say about this remarkable animal’s appendage that can set the record straight about what it is actually made of, and why it should be considered utterly useless on the black market.

Common myths about the uses of rhino horns

There are so many myths surrounding the medical application of rhino horns that it can be difficult to tell which of them are the most prominent. A common belief is that consumption of the horn can improve virility in men; another believes that because of its high keratin content, that a rhino horn is ideal for reducing fever. The truth behind the matter is that there is no determinable medical application for them, and quite frankly, the rhino that grew it needs the horn far more than any human could.

Are they just modified bone and hair?

Many horned creatures in the animal kingdom have horns that are made up of a similar substance to our own hair and nails, albeit quite a bit denser and harder, and for a long time it was believed that rhino horns were no different. However, after a team in Ohio University studied horns through a CT scan, they found something quite different.

These studies found that rhino horns have a dense cluster of calcium and melanin running through the centre of the horn. While the calcium gives the horn its remarkable strength, the melanin protects it from the ravages of the sun. The outer, lighter parts of the horn are much softer (by comparison), so that they can be shaped through scraping on rocks, the ground and vegetation, or through clashes, to give the horn its unique shape.

This study conducted by the Ohio University has revealed the horn to have absolutely no health benefits for humans. But even with that truth-bomb, the popularity of a poached rhino horn still hasn’t come down. But why?

Status trumps reason

The reasons behind wanting a rhino horn has changed over time, but that still hasn’t eliminated it. Even if people are starting to distrust the rhino horn as a medical solution, there is still a strong sense of status surrounding them in Asian countries, particularly China and Vietnam. And since it is being peddled to those with high statuses and wealth, combatting the problem is becoming even trickier.

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