By Dilantha Dissanayake
A herd of rhinos have undergone a ‘horn devaluation’ treatment in a bid to save their lives.
Captured on camera by photographer, Teagan Cunniffe, 28, on June 6, the images show the Rhino Rescue Project proactively preventing poaching efforts by devaluing and contaminating the rhino horns by using animal-friendly toxins and indelible dye.
If ingested by humans, it can cause severe nausea, vomiting and convulsions to varying degrees, dependent on the amount consumed.
Rhino Rescue Project has been performing these procedures since 2011, and to date only two per cent of rhinos that have been treated have died – and that is through a combination of both poaching and natural causes.
Poachers typically sell rhino horns across Asia for Traditional Chinese Medicine and can fetch over £40,000 on the black market per horn.
Teagan from Cape Town, South Africa, said: “The treatment lasts between three to five years, a full horn growth cycle, thereafter it needs to be re-administered. This costs £400 [R8000] for the entire operation, including ground crew and materials.
“My photographs show the process of the horn treatment by Rhino Rescue Project and The Ant Collection, from location and darting through to rhino, Mokolo’s recovery.
“The team is involved in proactive anti-poaching efforts that devalue and contaminate the horn using a compound made up of ectoparasiticides.
“The ectoparasiticides are vulture – and ox-pecker friendly but, if ingested by humans, cause severe nausea and vomiting.
“Outwardly, the horn looks virtually the same post-treatment, with no recorded harmful effects on the rhino or their subsequent offspring.
“Signs are placed around the reserve indicating that the rhino horns have been treated and are not safe for human consumption.
“Staff are encouraged to share the information amongst the surrounding communities. Poachers are deterred because it’s not worth running the risk of poaching rhino with poisoned horns, in light of that horn having little to no resale value.
“My favourite capture is the drone image of the people involved in Mokolo’s treatment process. I wanted the shadows of the humans to be the main feature: the faceless guardians of a vulnerable rhino. We are the only ones who can save this species from extinction.
“This is a hugely successful proactive anti-poaching effort, and I believe that all rhinos should undergo this treatment process.”