The Coronavirus and Rhino Horn

Sorting through rumors to get to the real issues around wildlife trade

Strasburg, Va – Since news broke about the spread of the latest coronavirus, or COVID-19, there has been a great deal of misinformation across the internet, especially after it was announced that the virus may have originated at a wildlife trade market.

COVID-19 is a member of the coronavirus family that has never been encountered before and, like other coronaviruses, it is a zoonotic disease, meaning that it originated from animals and later passed onto humans. The first cases of COVID-19 were identified in December 2019 in Wuhan, the capital city of China’s Hubei Province.

There has been much speculation on the source of the disease, with articles variously stating that it originated in bats, snakes, and pangolins. On social media the theory of rhino horn as the source for the virus has been widely circulated.

“Rhino horn is made of dead keratin cells, similar to human hair and nails,” said CeCe Sieffert, acting executive director at the International Rhino Foundation (IRF). “A virus would not be able to survive in that environment and therefore could not be spread by coming into contact with rhino horn.”

As well as the misinformation about the horn being the original source of coronavirus, there are reports that those selling rhino horn in China and Laos are now advertising medicines containing rhino horn as a great cure for the disease. There is no scientific evidence that rhino horn has medicinal value in curing viruses or diseases.

In response to the disease outbreak, the Government of China imposed a temporary ban on all wildlife trade within the state and tightened wildlife protection laws as well. Both of these policies have met with positive reactions from wildlife conservation organizations.

“We are heartbroken to hear about the devastation and human loss of life caused by COVID-19.  IRF supports the ban and improvements to law enforcement stopping illegal wildlife trade,” said Sieffert. “We encourage the Chinese authorities to make the ban permanent and to close any loopholes that might still allow trade under certain conditions. We are confident the ban will not only save human lives but also protect endangered species on the brink of extinction.”

Wildlife organizations in Vietnam sent an open letter to Vietnam’s Prime Minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, urging for immediate and serious improvements to wildlife conservation laws to help combat the spread of the Coronavirus within Vietnam’s borders and worldwide.

China and Vietnam drive the demand for rhino horn and the black-market trade is increasingly run by large criminal syndicates. “There is a fear that the false claims of cures for the coronavirus will increase poaching activities in Africa and Asia, further endangering rhino populations,” said Sieffert.

“This outbreak reminds us all that wildlife trade is not only driving species towards extinction and damaging our planet, but it is also a serious threat to human health. We must continue to work to reduce the demand for illegal rhino horn in China and Vietnam, increase protection for rhinos, and increase enforcement of wildlife crime across borders.”