These pictures have been doing the rounds on social media lately and gathering lots of attention in the process. But just how true are they?
The story goes, rangers in Africa are turning to new means of protecting our most loved species. By using pink dye to colour the horns and tusks of rhinos and elephants, they are making rhino horns and ivory unappealing to poachers. Poaching is the biggest threat African rhinos face, with their horns being used for a range of purposes from medicinal to ornamental. The demand is mostly fuelled by Asian markets where rhino horn is considered a symbol of wealth. Ivory from elephants tusks are also in big demand. The issue is not just a conservation one, but also a socioeconomic one – with poaching acting as a source of income in areas of poverty. Only making the issue harder to address.
The use of dye is certainly a creative idea, and innovative methods to stay ahead of poachers will always be welcomed. However, sadly, the pink dye method would be impractical. Conservation scientists do not know how altering the colour of an animals horns or tusks would affect the animal in the wild. Brightly coloured variations could have negative affects on animals breeding success, and an unnatural colour could hinder the ability to camouflage in the savannah. Elephant tusks continually grow and the dye would need to be reapplied, meaning a great deal of work for the rangers, and probably a great deal of cost incurred. Due to the animal’s size, the only safe way to reapply the dye would be to tranquilize the animal, but this has associated risks. Some trials have happened where a dye poisonous to humans (causing nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and headaches) has been applied to rhino horn, however, the colour is not as vibrant as shown in pictures. The dye renders the horn useless for medicine and ornamental use, and only alters the interior colour of the horn.
Rhino after undergoing procedure
It should also be noted that rhino horns are not made of ivory like elephants tusks are. But rather keratin, much like human fingernails, and contains nerve endings. Rhinos that have undergone the treatment have needed painkillers and antibiotics afterwards. So whilst the intentions behind the circulations are good, sadly, it’s unlikely to be a practical method used in the future. But hopefully the rise of awareness will bring further debate and fresh ideas on how to save these iconic species.