We have pioneered what we believe to be one of, if not the only, proactive initiatives to combat the scourge of rhino poaching in South Africa. We believe that the only way to save the rhino is to devalue their horns from the consumer perspective. Demand in Vietnam and China is growing exponentially and without effective demand reduction there will be no way protect the rhino population going into rapid decline from 2016.
The users of rhino horn do not care about killing the animal or the death of rangers and poachers in Africa. The only way to stop them from consuming horn is to trigger health anxiety – the fear of ingesting contaminated horn. We have pioneered this technology in South Africa and provide horn treatments to owners of rhinos and public reserves.
Our mission is to offer a sustainable, cost effective defensive strategy to protect rhinos in South Africa and elsewhere from poaching. Our all-inclusive, holistic protection programme is focused largely on the devaluation of rhino horns as commodities by infusing them with an animal-friendly toxin and indelible dye as well as added security measures like microchips, tracking technology and DNA sampling and storage.
With more than 7000 rhinos lost to poaching in South Africa since 2010, few could argue that time is running out for us to bring an iconic African species back from the brink of extinction.
Rhino Rescue Project (RRP) was founded in the weeks following a poaching incident on the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve in Gauteng, South Africa in May 2010. We were shocked that poachers would target such a small reserve so close to Johannesburg and we contemplated many different methods to fight the poaching scourge. The problem we found with all of the alternatives available at the time was that they were largely reactive instead of proactive, and did not necessarily deter poachers from striking again. We considered conventional solutions like microchips and tracking devices, to more extreme measures such as dehorning. The latter was not considered an attractive option to us as we rely on eco-tourism as our primary source of income. After all, no tourist to Africa really wants to see the “Big Four-and-a-Half” instead of the iconic Big Five!
Our thought process increasingly centred around ways to devalue rhino horns, by means of infusion or other forms of contamination. Central to our initial research was the need to ascertain whether it would be possible to contaminate or impregnate rhino horns, possibly with either prolific colouring agents or toxins (or both) to render them valueless in the minds of buyers and/or end consumers.
We found no existing research into the devaluation of rhino horns, but of particular interest to us was work being done on the control of ecto‑parasites (ticks etc.) through the treatment of rhino horns with ectoparasiticides. This research hypothesised that the horn could be used as the depot from which an ectoparasiticide could be distributed on to the skin of the animal to alleviate discomfort from natural parasites. Upon realising that this treatment could potentially neutralise a dual threat (both poaching and parasites) we decided to proceed with testing and the subsequent treatment.