"R is for Rhinos" … and also for Ridiculous Remedies

Southern White Rhino
Southern White Rhino

It appears that one of the earliest uses of rhino horn by our own species was for forensic purposes – to detect poisons.  Apparently, poisoning was a popular form of homicide in days of old.  So, should one have feared for his or her life, it was best to be safe and drink from a cup carved from horn that would forewarn of an enemy’s evil intent. Originally this belief probably applied to the horn of the mythical unicorn.  However, since such fantastical appendages were impossible to come by, narwhal tusks and rhino horns apparently were the next best thing.  This superstition persisted for millennia and apparently gave rise to many others.
Asian cultures seem to be largely responsible for promoting rhino horn as a cure or tonic, but Europeans and Africans produced their share of improbable remedies as well.  The list of ailments and conditions for which rhino horn has been prescribed is incredibly long, diverse and – quite simply – ridiculous.  Preparations and dosages may vary from one culture to another, but the results of filling the prescriptions is the same: wild rhinos are killed simply to hack off their horns.  Unfortunately, the consumers seem unaware of the consequences or possibly just don’t care.
So let’s take a look at some of the ailments or conditions that millions of people through the ages have claimed rhino horn will cure.
Aging    Arthritis    Asthma     Bites of mad dogs, scorpions and snakes
Black magic     Boils and carbuncles    Chest cold     Chicken pox
Convulsions     Coughs     Demonic possession    Diptheria     Dysentery
Epilepsy   Fainting     Fever     Fits     Food poisoning     Hallucinations
Headache    Hemorrhoids     Impotence     Insanity    Laryngitis     Lumbago
Malaria     Measles     Melancholy     Memory loss     Myopia     Night blindness
Nightmares    Nose bleed    Plague    Polio     Prescription overdoses
Rectal bleeding     Smallpox    Toothache     Typhoid     Vomiting    Worms
Please note that this list is not intended to be exhaustive, only illustrative.  It was compiled from the following sources, which make for informative reading:
Ellis, R.  2005.  Tiger Bone & Rhino Horn.  Island Press, Washington, D.C.
Lavin, S. A.  1982.  Wonders of Rhinos.  Dodd, Mead& Company, New York.
Martin, E. B. and C.  1982.  Run Rhino Run. Chatto & Windus, London.

2 thoughts on “"R is for Rhinos" … and also for Ridiculous Remedies

  1. Why not tissue culture rhino horn; flood the market with it and destroy poaching profit forever?

  2. The International Rhino Foundation does not sanction solutions to the illegal trade that perpetuate the use of rhino horn for any erroneously perceived medicinal or curative properties. Stimulating the consumption of alternative, synthetic or fake products only fosters the belief that consumption of rhino horn is in some way beneficial, which it is not, and may actually threaten the lives of consumers who do not seek proper medical attention for the conditions they wish to treat. We believe that the illegal trade must be stopped by anti-poaching measures in rhino range countries and through public awareness and educational programs in consumer nations.

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