In South Africa, rhinos could soon become agents of chemical warfareS

Got a hankering for some rhinoceros horn? Practitioners of traditional Asian medicine believe that ground rhino horns, when ingested, can help cure diseases like cancer. Unfortunately for patients consuming rhino horns, they could just as well be chewing on their fingernails. Unfortunately for the rhinos, the increased demand for their horns in recent years has sent the rate of poaching in places like South Africa skyrocketing.

But now, officials at a nature reserve near Johannesburg claim to have developed a chemical treatment that could help keep the rhinos — and their horns — safe and sound. How, exactly? By poisoning people who would eat rhino horns.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the chemical cocktail is a mixture of drugs originally designed to combat parasites like ticks. But by injecting the chemical treatment into a rhino's horn, it does more than protect it from bugs.

According to Lorinda Hern, spokeswoman for the Rhino Rescue Project, based out of South Africa's Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve:

The chemicals have the dual threat of keeping away both natural and human parasites...The treatment is for the benefit and improved health of the animal - but it is highly toxic to humans.

According to Hern, the chemical remains in the horn for three to four years after it's been injected, and ingesting even a small amount of the parasiticide can induce "severe nausea, vomiting, convulsions, and nervous-system disruption" in humans.

Injected along with the parasiticide is an indelible die that Hern claims does not change the outward appearance of the horn, but is detectable by X-rays. The dye would presumably limit the ability for poachers to traffic severed horns.

The hope is that as word of their harmful effect spreads, demand for the horns will decline. Yolan Friedmann, director of South Africa's Endangered Wildlife Trust, said that if the cocktail turns out to be legally compliant, and is shown not to have a negative effect on the rhinos, the plan could just work.

Via Bloomberg, The Sydney Morning Herald, and Times LIVE

Top image via Jens Stolt/Shutterstock