Rhino Horn Bad Medicine Says New WWF ‘Toenails For Cancer’ Campaign

Rhino horn is no more effective at treating cancer than eating ground-up human toenails, and it’s made of the same ingredient, keratin. That’s the gist of the message of a new anti-rhinoceros poaching ad campaign launched in Vietnam by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and its anti-poaching partner TRAFFIC.

“Rhino horn is largely made of keratin and will do nothing to treat cancer or help one’s sexual prowess. Widespread lies, myths and rumours are fuelling demand and use of rhino horn,” said a statement from Dr. Naomi Doak, TRAFFIC’s Greater Mekong Programme Coordinator.

The ads feature photos of a rhino with its horn replaced by human hands or feet.

However, one potential problem with the campaign is that it will only work if the buyers really believe that it’s a special ingredient in the rhino horn that helps treat illness. With prices soaring to as high as $30,000 per pound for the powdered horn, it’s almost impossible for some observers to believe that superstitious peasants are buying this as a cheap traditional medicine.

Instead, some anti-poachers have said that financial speculators have jumped into the market to buy up the horn — and, for that kind of money, they’re willing to shed blood. In late March, three rhino poachers were killed during a raid in South Africa. Not long afterward, a South African helicopter containing five anti-poaching fighters went down, killing everyone on board.

Because of the high value of the powdered horn, thieves have even targeted museums, breaking in to saw off the horns of taxidermy specimens.

Earlier in April, popular wildlife reserve Sabi Sand Wildtuin, which is one of the private parks that provide a buffer around South Africa’s huge Kruger park, announced that they had caught and treated 100 of their rhinos by injecting their horns with a poisonous pink dye.

rhino horn campaign courtesy WWF

Anyone who consumes powder made from the poisoned horns would become sick but not die, they said.

Again, the effectiveness of the technique may be predicated on the idea that people are actually consuming the rhino horn. But perhaps garish pink rhino horn is a bad investment as well as bad medicine.

[rhino horn campaign ad courtesy WWF/TRAFFIC with image created by Ogilvy & Mather Viet Nam]

[wild rhinoceros photo by Jane Fresco via Wikipedia Commons]