Many of you may have seen me when you visited Inverdoorn and went on a safari. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of meeting me, my name is Balekha and I came to the game reserve with my mother. I am a white rhino, but it’s a very silly name because I’m actually grey and so is the black rhino. Both of us are African rhinos and there are also three other types of rhinos. The other three are Asian and they are: the Indian rhino, the Sumatran rhino and the Javan rhino. We are different in lots of ways, but we have one definite thing in common: we are all in danger of becoming extinct. Human beings have been hunting us for centuries, but the problem has become really big in the last few years, especially in South Africa where I live. People hunt us, because they want our horns. They cut them off and use them for all sorts of things. This is very, very painful and most of the time, if the rhino has not been killed, they die anyway. It makes me very sad, because I don’t understand why anyone would want to hurt us when we have done nothing to harm them.
My mother told me that a lot of humans think our horns are very valuable. People in several Asian countries use TCM (which stands for Traditional Chinese Medicine) to cure all kinds of illnesses. TCM often uses parts of different plants, animals and minerals. One of the parts they use in their medicine is rhino horn. Our horns are ground into a powder, dissolved in hot water and then taken as medicine to cure different ailments. Have a look at the long list below:
• Snake bites
It may seem strange that one thing could cure so many different things, but TCM has a holistic approach to medicine, while Western medicine targets specific symptoms. These beliefs have been around for a long time, but scientists have proved that rhino horn has NO medicinal value. Our horns are made of a protein called keratin, which is what you will find in your hair and fingernails.
This means that people are killing the rest of my species, as well as my relatives in Asia, for something which does not work; but using the horn for medicine is not the only reason poachers kill us. There are other countries, like Yemen and Oman in the Middle East, where the people use our horns to make dagger handles. These are called “jambiyas” and are presented to young men as a symbol of their manhood. When young male rhinos become adults their parents do not cut off human noses for them, so I do not understand why people have to go about cutting off our horns for this, and killing us in the process – especially when there are other things they can make the jambiyas from. Our horns have also been used to make things like cups and bowls, because when the horn is carved it looks translucent and some people think this is very pretty – but I think my horn looks better on my face.
Unfortunately, amongst all these myths, a silly rumour was started that certain cultures use rhino horn as an aphrodisiac, but this is not true. Human beings have a saying that “rumours spread like wildfire”, which is very true. People already believe horns can cure the ailments I listed above and now someone has created an extra myth, which didn’t even exist in the first place. What has also started happening is that people think rhino horn powder can cure even more things than before. Sometimes these are simple ideas like a “hangover remedy”, but the even bigger problem is the claim that it can cure cancer. This is very unfair towards people suffering from this terrible illness, because they are given false hope and waste a lot of money on “miracle drugs”. Even though people have hurt my species, I do not wish the same thing upon humans and I hope they will stop consuming rhino horn, because it will not help them and I would rather they try to find a remedy or treatment that will.
One of the reasons people believe rhino horn cures cancer is because a very important and official person in Viet Nam claimed it cured their cancer. This means that even more people believe that it can heal them and now even more people want it. Some rich and powerful people own rhino horn, because they think it shows others how much money and power they have – humans call this a status symbol. Even though people are hurting us for all these reasons, there are many trying to save us. The rhino horn trade was banned in 1977 and China banned its use in TCM in 1993. All kinds of ideas have been thought up by humans – like dehorning, making horn trade legal and poisoning the horns – to help protect and save us. My horn has been injected with a special treatment (you can read more about it here) and I have been safe ever since. Humans disagree a lot of the time about many things and they seem unable to make a decision about what solution is best for us. I hope they will find a way to work together, because it will help us a lot and teach other humans that our horns have no use to them, only to rhinos.
Written in the “voice” of Balekha, the rhino.
Originally published on Inverdoorn Game Reserve.