Biting Your Fingernails Won’t Cure Cancer—Neither Will Eating Rhino Horn

Inside the World Wildlife Fund's new campaign to curb rhino poaching.

The World Wildlife Fund's new campaign is centered around this fact: Eating rhino horn does as much good for the human body as eating human fingernails. (Photo: World Wildlife Fund)


May 9, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Joanna writes about environment and energy for the NYT, Popular Science, OnEarth Magazine, and more.

It's safe to say that most of us don't consider toenail clippings an aphrodisiac. And while biting fingernails helps some of us relieve nervous tension, we know it won't really solve our problems. That doesn't stop wildlife poaching gangs from marketing rhino horn, which is almost entirely keratin, as a cure for everything from headaches to cancer, detoxifier and sexual stimulant.

The World Wildlife Fund is now fighting back with an advertising campaign of its own, designed to educate potential rhino horn consumers in Vietnam on how the wildly expensive and violently obtained parts of this threatened species hold as much medical value as trash cans in nail salons.

The advertisements, displayed on television and in newspapers, as well as in universities, train stations and office buildings throughout Vietnam, depict a rhino with human hands and feet protruding from its face where its horn should be. It's a striking, freakish image, but more important than the yuck factor is the message that rhino horn is a complete waste of money.

Since images of rhinos bleeding to death after having their horns hacked off haven't served to diminish demand, WWF is hoping to appeal to consumers' pocketbooks.

"There are many traditional medicines that have proven to be effective for treating a variety of ailments and symptoms and have saved millions of lives, said Dr. Naomi Doak, TRAFFIC's Greater Mekong Program Coordinator. "Rhino horn, however, is NOT one of them. This is a dangerous myth, both for wildlife and people."

Rhino horn can sell on the streets of Vietnam for as much as $133 per gram, making it more expensive than gold or platinum.

While WWF tries to get the word out that consumers are begin scammed, TBWA, a marketing and communications agency in South Africa, is launching a public awareness postage stamp campaign. Instead of depicting heart-warming images of baby rhinos frolicking in long grasses, as so many South African stamps have in the past, these stamps show rhinos left to die in the bush in blood-soaked dirt. TWA is encouraging consumers to use the stamps on everything being sent to Asia.

In 2007, 13 rhinos were poached in South Africa—home to two thirds of Africa's rhinos. Last year, 668 rhinos were killed, and well over 200 have already been sacrificed for their horns in the first four months of 2013.

"Hundreds of rhinos are dying and very sick people are being swindled, just so someone can make more money" said Dr. Doak.