It appears that one of the earliest uses of rhino horn by our own species was for forensic purposes – to detect poisons. Apparently, poisoning was a popular form of homicide in days of old. So, should one have feared for his or her life, it was best to be safe and drink from a cup carved from horn that would forewarn of an enemy’s evil intent. Originally this belief probably applied to the horn of the mythical unicorn. However, since such fantastical appendages were impossible to come by, narwhal tusks and rhino horns apparently were the next best thing. This superstition persisted for millennia and apparently gave rise to many others.
Asian cultures seem to be largely responsible for promoting rhino horn as a cure or tonic, but Europeans and Africans produced their share of improbable remedies as well. The list of ailments and conditions for which rhino horn has been prescribed is incredibly long, diverse and – quite simply – ridiculous. Preparations and dosages may vary from one culture to another, but the results of filling the prescriptions is the same: wild rhinos are killed simply to hack off their horns. Unfortunately, the consumers seem unaware of the consequences or possibly just don’t care.
So let’s take a look at some of the ailments or conditions that millions of people through the ages have claimed rhino horn will cure.
Aging Arthritis Asthma Bites of mad dogs, scorpions and snakes
Black magic Boils and carbuncles Chest cold Chicken pox
Convulsions Coughs Demonic possession Diptheria Dysentery
Epilepsy Fainting Fever Fits Food poisoning Hallucinations
Headache Hemorrhoids Impotence Insanity Laryngitis Lumbago
Malaria Measles Melancholy Memory loss Myopia Night blindness
Nightmares Nose bleed Plague Polio Prescription overdoses
Rectal bleeding Smallpox Toothache Typhoid Vomiting Worms
Please note that this list is not intended to be exhaustive, only illustrative. It was compiled from the following sources, which make for informative reading:
Ellis, R. 2005. Tiger Bone & Rhino Horn. Island Press, Washington, D.C.
Lavin, S. A. 1982. Wonders of Rhinos. Dodd, Mead& Company, New York.
Martin, E. B. and C. 1982. Run Rhino Run. Chatto & Windus, London.