Dyeing Rhino Horns and Elephant Ivory to Prevent Poaching

Photo-edit: Marko Radosavljević


Trade in rhino horns and elephant ivory was banned throughout the world in 1989 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. However, as long as there are people ready to set aside large sums of money for them, there will also be those willing to overstep the boundaries of the law and dirty their hands with the blood of innocent animals.

In order to prevent them, animal rights activists paint horns and tusks and therefore decrease their value.

Due to the illegal trade in rhino horns and elephant ivory, the number of these animals in African wilderness has fallen catastrophically in the last 50 years. During 2014, in South Africa, one rhinoceros was killed every eight hours. The statistics of Save the Rhino, non-profit organization, from 2016 are no less devastating. Although hunting has dropped by 10 percent, 1054 members of this animal species have been killed. Rhinos are killed precisely because of their horns. Elephants are in an even worse situation. According to a survey report by the Save the Elephants, in the period from 2010 to 2012, 100,000 elephants were victims of illegal hunting. Hunters kill one elephant every fifteen minutes. When you get up in the morning, after an eight-hour sleep, the planet will have 32 elephants less.

Photo-edit: Marko Radosavljević

Why is the demand for these animals so high that they are at risk of extermination?

Due to misconceptions, the horn is used in traditional medicine. It is used in the form of powder for the treatment of everything – from a hangover to cancer. Its basis is keratin, the same substance that makes up human hair. This would mean that the tea made from the remains of a local barbershop would have the same medical effect as the horn of rhinoceros. Trade is most developed in Asia, China and Vietnam, where a kilogram of this goods costs up to 50 thousand euros. And ivory is used for medical purposes. Some of the misconceptions about its medicinal properties are that it changes colour in contact with toxic foods and makes skin shine and glow. It is also used in the treatment of epileptics. However, “white gold” is mostly used for making jewelry and sculptures, but also billiard balls, piano keyboards, and stamps. Most of them are bought by Asians, and they pay almost 2 thousand euros for a kilogram. It is believed that 70 percent of ivory ends up in China.

In order to illustrate this specific means of fighting hunters and smugglers, my colleague Marko painted horns and tusks in Photoshop. They do it in a slightly different way in Africa. It may come as a shock but to paint a photo is not an effective way of stopping poachers. What is?

Participants of Rhino Rescue Project drill horns and tusks and “inject” a mixture of colour and poison that devaluates their price on the market. In addition to changing their recognizable white color, the paint can be detected by scanners at airports, even when they are converted into dust.

Perhaps one hard-core, conservative heterosexual rhinoceros would be angry to see his symbol painted in purple, but he would probably have calmed down if we told him that this colour protects his life.

After all, if you’ve ever wondered if there’s anything sweeter than an elephant, an elephant with purple tusks could be the answer.

Jelena Kozbasic