By Amelia Meyer
Rhino horn has, for centuries, been believed to hold medicinal properties.
This is the main reason that these valuable horns sell for such high prices on the black market, particularly in Asia, since the medicinal properties are predominantly within the sphere of Chinese medicine.
Despite the exorbitantly high prices of these traditional medicines, the Asian market continues to invest in them in the hopes of curing a wide variety of ailments.
The most common illnesses believed to be cured by rhino horn include:
•Vomiting and stomach upsets
•Inflammation and infection
Some older myths claim that it is also effective in the treatment of hallucinations, snake bites and demonic possession. In addition, some cultures believe that rhino horn can be placed in water to purify it. Another common belief is that the horn can be used to detect whether or not a liquid contains poisons, since it will, allegedly, bubble in the presence of certain toxins. Only this last idea may hold some water, so to speak, since keratin might react to certain acids.
It must be remembered that rhino horn is simply a keratin structure;made up of the same material that comprises human hair and fingernails. This is a protein and is commonly found in humans and animals. Therefore, the rhino horn should be every bit as effective in curing the above maladies as chewing on our very own fingernails or hair.
In its medicinal application, only about two grams of the horn is used in a single dose. This dose can be very expensive, which is often the only prohibiting factor for many Asian patients. In fact, rhino horn is approximately as valuable as gold, kilogram for kilogram.
Despite the fact that China imposed a ban on trading in rhino horn in 1993, the trade continues very successfully on the black market. The main markets for rhino horn for its perceived medicinal value include China, Vietnam, South Korea, Malaysia and even India. China remains the largest and most influential of these markets.
The traditional doctor will grind the horn into a powder or shave it. It can be dissolved in hot water. Often, these doctors will demand that the raw horn be brought to them so that they are assured that it is a genuine horn.
Numerous studies and experiments have been conducted over the years to test whether the rhino horn really possesses any form of curative properties or medicinal value. Over and over again, it has been found that it does not. However, the Asian markets put such trust in these remedies that all scientific studies have largely been ignored to date.