Cincinnati Zoo Scientists Find Mineral Content in Rhino Horns Unlikely to Provide Human Health Benefits

Posted June 17, 2024

Research results published in Scientific Reports

CINCINNATI, OH (June 17, 2024) — A recent study led by scientists from Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s Lindner Center for Conservation & Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) indicates that any mineral-related benefits or risks to human health following ingestion of rhino horn products would likely be inconsequential.  Evidence that the horns do not contain material with medicinal value could help reduce demand for rhino horns which would deter poaching, giving the species at serious risk of extinction a better chance of survival.

“Poaching is driven by demand for the horns, and much of that demand comes from the belief that they contain medicinal properties to cure a plethora of illnesses,” said Dr. Terri Roth, director of CREW and director of the American Institute of Rhinoceros Science (AIRS). “Our research on multiple samples of rhino horns helps to dispel that myth and, therefore, could help rhino conservation efforts in ways we had not imagined when we began studying horn minerals for rhino health monitoring.”

The results of the study, which was an AIRS project funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), were published last week by Scientific Reports.

Findings indicate that, although the rhino horn does contain many minerals including essential trace minerals people require for good health, the concentrations are so low that it is implausible there are any mineral related health benefits from ingesting rhino horn derivatives.

“In fact, people ingesting rhino horn products could actually be getting a dose of dirt since soil is embedded in the external surface of the horn,” said Dr. Roth. “Rhinoceros horn also contains some potentially toxic minerals such as lead and arsenic, but their concentrations are also low.”

CREW scientists performed DNA research for this study, with assistance from the Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC),  to identify sex, species, and relatedness of the individual horns while determining if the mineral content of rhino horn could be used as a potential, non-invasive means of monitoring rhino health.  All horn mineral analyses were conducted by the paper’s co-authors at the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, College of Veterinary Medicine, Michigan State University.