Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

KWAZULU-Natal conservation officials and anti-rhino poaching activists are optimistic about the likely success of the recently launched pilot project in which rhino horns will be injected with a toxic substance to make them poisonous and unusable, to discourage poachers.

The poison is toxic to humans and people using the horns will become seriously ill, suffering from nausea and vomiting, but it is harmless to the rhino.

The horn will also be infused with an indelible pink dye that will expose it to any airport scanner.

The pilot project began on Tuesday at Tembe Game Reserve, and on Wednesday moved to the neighbouring Ndumo Game Reserves in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

All the rhinos at the two facilities will be injected.

It is estimated that poachers get about $65,000/kg for mature horns, which average 4kg-4.5kg when sawn or hacked off close to the skull of the carcass.

The number of rhinos killed in South Africa this year is 618 and 63 of these have been killed in KwaZulu-Natal, in game reserves such as Tembe and Ndumo.

Northern KwaZulu-Natal game reserves are a fertile hunting ground and poaching has been on the increase in recent times.

It is believed that syndicates recruit poor people living on either side of the South African border with Mozambique to poach rhinos for their horns.

Musa Mntambo, spokesman for Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife, said the agency was excited about this new venture, as it hoped it would deter poachers.

"We are worried about the activities of the poachers and this is the latest in our effort in the fight against this scourge," Mr Mntambo said. "We hope that by poisoning the horns people would be wary of using medicines obtained from killing these innocent animals."

Meshack Radebe, the province’s MEC for agriculture and environmental affairs, said that KwaZulu-Natal had been at the receiving end of cross-border poachers.