I agree with the argument made by the writer in connection with the ethics of dehorning the one-horned rhino (“On the dilemma over the rhino horn,” March 28). Dehorning does not guarantee that the horn will not end up in the wrong hands eventually. It will also render the rhino defenceless against attacks by other animals.
The Assam government must explore the use of an indelible dye, a technique used in the Rhino Rescue Project, South Africa. Here, the dye is introduced which turns the inside of the horn bright pink. It is similar to products used in the banking industry to permanently stain stolen bank notes. It is visible on an X-ray scanner even when the horn is ground to a fine powder. Thus, airport security checkpoints can pick the presence of this dye in a treated horn. The dye could also discourage the use of horns for ornamental purposes. This will reduce smuggling of rhino horn which costs $60-$140 a gm in the international market. We need to explore all possible options to disincentivise and stop the evil of poaching.
Instead of making the harmless beast its target, the government should focus on fighting poachers and directing funds to train and equip guards with state-of-the-art weaponry and other gadgets and all-weather clothing and footwear.
Historical mention of other uses for the rhino horn dates back thousands of years. In Greek mythology, it was said to have the properties to purify water. The ancient Persians of the Fifth Century B.C. thought that vessels made from the horn could detect poison in liquids. Now, science is stepping in to dispel some of the mystery and fiction.
Rhino horn is not, as once believed, made simply from a clump of compressed or modified hair. Research by the Ohio University using computerised tomography shows that the horn is in fact, similar in structure to hooves, beaks and bills. The centre has dense mineral deposits of calcium and melanin — a finding that may explain the curve and the sharp tip of the horn. The calcium strengthens the horn while the melanin protects the core from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. As the softer outer portion gets worn out over time, the inner core is sharpened into a point, much like a wooden pencil.
Overall there isn’t much evidence to support the plethora of claims about the healing properties of the horn.