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Fact check: Rhino horns and elephant tusks are not being dyed bright pink to deter poaching 

Social media users have been sharing content online that claims to show an anti-poaching method for rhinos and elephants that involves dying their tusks and horns pink. The images in these claims are altered. While a type of dye is sometimes used on rhino in anti-poaching initiatives, the process bears no resemblance to these photos.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

Examples can be seen  here  and  here  . 

One post reads: “One of the most brilliant things I’ve ever seen against poaching. They use the same pink dye that is used to mark stolen banknotes. This makes the ivory of the tusks unsaleable and cannot be cleaned. The animals are not harmed and this initiative is saving their lives.”

The posts feature photographs of an elephant and rhinos with bright pink tusks or horns. The photographs are clearly altered.

Original versions of the rhino photograph are stock photos visible  here  and  here . The earliest the unedited elephant photograph appeared online is 2009 ( here , see likely source  here ). 

It is true that various organizations like Rhino Rescue Project and Sabi Sand Game Reserve are infusing rhino horns with a type of poison and dyes to prevent poaching, but these processes do not resemble the images portrayed on social media  here  , and  here  ). 

“Although it may be fun to imagine herds of rhino roaming the African savannah with pretty pink horns,” the Rhino Rescue Project writes in a FAQ addressing this sort of misinformation, “one has to guard against reducing a scientific intervention into nothing more than a frivolous Facebook or Twitter rumour.” (see question seven,  rhinorescueproject.org/faq/ )  

The Rhino Rescue Project explains the process on its website: “To devalue the horn, it is treated by infusing it with a compound made up of ectoparasiticides and indelible dye that contaminates the horn and renders it useless for ornamental or medicinal use.” The procedure can be seen in more detail  here  .  

While dye is used in the process, it does not resemble the photographs online. Rhino Rescue says “horn devaluation is a much more involved process than simply dyeing the surface of a horn pink,” or any other color. It clarifies its “often misunderstood methodology” on its website and why a bright pink dye as pictured in these claims would not be feasible.

Firstly, due to the wild nature of the animals’ activities, “the colour would not be visible for long enough to act as a deterrent,” and secondly, any specific coloration or discoloration of certain animals “makes every other animal in a population without a coloured horn an even softer target for poachers.”

Articles explaining this process using edited photographs ( here ) or petitions for the dying of tusks ( here ) may have contributed to this misinformation spreading online.  

For elephant tusks, on the other hand, this sort of initiative is not an easy option, as explained  here  . 

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) says dying horns and tusks pink would not work ( here  ) because elephant tusks can grow as fast as an inch per year and re-dying the tusk each year after its grown out is “unrealistic” .  

Among the other risks associated with this sort of initiative on elephants, IFAW lists, “capturing, sedating and dying the tusks of as many as 400,000 elephants is logistically impossible; the disruption and distress caused to these elephants could be detrimental to individuals and families; the number of elephants killed in the process would likely be sizeable; and the process would have to be repeated every few years or so.”

South Africa is home to about 80% of the world’s rhino population. Details of rhino population numbers left per species can be seen  here . In the decade between 2009-2019, 9,642 African rhinos were killed by poachers ( here  ).  

The population of elephants around the world decreased by 62% between 2002 and 2011 largely due to poaching ( here  ). 

VERDICT

Altered. While some wildlife organizations inject dye into the horns of rhinos to prevent poaching, it does not make the horn appear bright pink. These photographs are altered.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work  here  .          

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