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Scientific Studies Find No Medicinal Value in Rhino Horn

By Rhishja Larson
July 6, 2011
File under: Animal Protection, Black Market, Education, Wildlife

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Photo courtesy of Pam Krzyza

As one of the most widely recognized animals on our Planet, rhinos are unfortunately also one of the most endangered. Sought after for centuries because of the alleged healing properties of their distinctive horns, these giant herbivores are still the victims of long-standing myths.

Here, we shed some light on the misinformation that is behind the continued killing of these proud pachyderms.

Rhino horn and Traditional Chinese Medicine

For thousands of years, rhino horn has been a key ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine, which has credited rhino horn with powerful healing properties.

Some of the earliest uses of rhino horn are documented in Bernard Read’s 1931 translation of Li Shih-chen’s 1597 materia medica Pen Ts’ ao Kang Mu. According to this ancient medicinal guide,  rhino horn has the potency to cure nearly every disease imaginable, from headaches to dysentery – and even possession by evil spirits.

More recently, rhino horn has been touted as treatment for cancer, appendicitis, mumps, epilepsy, and herpes.

Contrary to popular belief, rhino horn has never been prescribed as an aphrodisiac by traditional Chinese medicine practitioners.

Rhino horn in the laboratory

In an effort to educate the public about the alleged curative properties of rhino horn, various scientific studies have put rhino horn to the test.

For example, a pharmacological study conducted by researchers at Hoffmann-LaRoche was published by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in a 1983 issue of The Environmentalist.

This critical study “found no evidence that rhino horn has any medicinal effect as an antipyretic and would be ineffective in reducing fever, a common usage in much of Asia.”

Testing further confirmed that “rhino horn, like fingernails, is made of agglutinated hair” and “has no analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmolytic nor diuretic properties” and “no bactericidal effect could be found against suppuration and intestinal bacteria.”

Dr. Raj Amin at the Zoological Society of London also put rhino horn through rigorous scientific testing.  The tests confirmed that rhino horn contains no medical properties.

Check out this video of Dr. Amin discussing the results of his studies at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/rhinoceros/rhino-horn-use-fact-vs-fiction/1178/

Both Dr. Arne Schiotz of WWF and Dr. Raj Amin of ZSL compared the effects of rhino horn to “chewing one’s own fingernails” – in other words, rhino horn has no curative effects.

In addition, rhino horn was tested by scientists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The findings, published in the report Ethnopharmacology of Rhinoceros Horn. I. Antipyretic Effects of Rhinoceros Horn and Other Animal Horns, failed to support the alleged efficacy of rhino horn as a useful medicine.

To conduct the tests, fever was induced in rats by injecting them with turpentine oil. Then the rats were injected with a dosage of rhino horn extract equal to 100 times the prescribed amount for human patients.

Although the rats’ rectal temperatures lowered after the injection for an hour and a half, the dosage levels comparable to what would be prescribed to a human patient had no fever-reducing effect.

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Photo courtesy of Suman Bhattarai

Educating consumers about rhino horn

Despite the fact that scientific analysis has confirmed rhino horn has no curative properties, far too many people still believe that rhino horn is a remedy.

And although the use of rhino horn is prohibited by international law, the rhino killing epidemic that has gripped several countries across Africa and Asia indicate that the use of rhino horn is continuing.

Perhaps rhino horn consumers do not have access to accurate information, such as the results of scientific studies. Or perhaps they do not realize their beliefs are causing an ancient species to disappear from our Earth.

In either case, we must help educate consumers of rhino horn that it has no medicinal value or curative properties. We must also explain to consumers that these myths about rhino horn are already responsible for the regional extinction of certain subspecies of rhino across multiple countries and continents.

By sharing accurate knowledge, we can help protect rhinos from being killed for their horns, and prevent this magnificent mammal from being plundered to extinction.

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