September 5, 2010

Poison Apple

Laws protecting the Earth from human greed exist everywhere, but aren't always as effective as they intend. Sometimes the average Joe feels the need to take matters into his own hands.

Ed Hern owns the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve in South Africa and is raising the baby rhino orphaned when its mother, the last adult rhino on another reserve in the country, was killed by poachers (I wrote about it here). His idea is to inject cyanide into the horns of the rhinos on his reserve. Theoretically, according to Hern, the cyanide won't harm the animals because there are no blood vessels in the horn to transport the chemical to the rest of the body (rhino horns are like fingernails or hair: connected to the body, but what we do to our nails and hair doesn't affect the rest of our body in any way). Hern says,
"The aim would be to kill, or make seriously ill anyone who consumes the horn. If someone in China eats it and gets violently sick, they are not going to buy it again."
He does have a point. Rhino horn is used in ancient Chinese remedies, so I imagine it acts as a giant placebo, seeing how rhino horn (keratin) has no healing or aphrodisiac properties whatsoever. But if generations upon generations of your family members have used rhino horn, why wouldn't you use it? And if it's so expensive and hard to get, it must work, right? So if people start dying after consuming rhino horn maybe they'll see the connection and stop buying it. And if they stop buying it poachers will stop making money from it and stop hunting rhinos.

But there is a good counter point: attempted murder. At least in America it's illegal to purposefully taint products with the aim of causing harm or death. I have no idea about South Africa, but I can see the moral qualms with such a plan. Killing rhinos and buying rhino horn are illegal, so could poisoning the horn be justifiable?

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