Rhino Horns Are Basically Just Giant Toenails. And These Images Won’t Let You Forget It

Artists offer a clever—and disgusting—perspective on poaching (which is also disgusting).

Credit: Katy Tanis

If someone told you that drinking tea made from ground-up human toenails would cure your headache, would you start sipping?

That’s essentially what’s happening when people consume rhino horn in order to cure anything from headaches and snakebites to carbuncles and, um, “devil possession.” Rhino horns and pangolin scales—another favored ingredient among poachers and their ilk—are primarily made of keratin, the very same material that forms our own nails and hair. So drinking tea made from these horns and scales is just as effective as biting your nails or chewing your locks, which is to say: Not at all. It does, however, come with the side effect of extinction.

Even though the health claims surrounding rhino horns are bogus, demand continues to rise. Poachers killed at least 1,338 rhinos across Africa in 2015—the sixth consecutive year to see an increase in rhino poaching. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared the Western black rhino extinct in 2011, and three of the five remaining rhino species are critically endangered.

So for World Rhino Day, artists Katy Tanis and Molly Schafer are raising awareness with a project that highlights just how grotesque it is to wipe out animals for their parts—and it really hits the nail on the head. The duo invited artists to create works featuring rhinos and pangolins but replace the horns and scales with (shudder) human nail clippings. Their pièces de résistance are posted on social media alongside hashtags like #JustGiantToenails.

Some clever kids are even getting in on the action by painting their tootsies to look like rhinos.

Tanis and Schafer didn’t let themselves off the hook. Both dutifully emptied their nail clippers to contribute artwork to the effort—a process Tanis calls “weird and gross.”

“Eeeww!” is exactly the response they’re going for. They want the idea of poaching to invoke the same skeeved-out reactions as these hangnail-studded images. “Nails can be painted and seen as attractive, but as soon as a nail is no longer connected to its finger it becomes an object of repulsion and disgust,” Schafer says. “If only the same could be said for the keratin parts of rhinos and pangolins.”

This article was originally published on onEarth, which is no longer in publication. onEarth was founded in 1979 as the Amicus Journal, an independent magazine of thought and opinion on the environment. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. This article is available for online republication by news media outlets or nonprofits under these conditions: The writer(s) must be credited with a byline; you must note prominently that the article was originally published by NRDC.org and link to the original; the article cannot be edited (beyond simple things such grammar); you can’t resell the article in any form or grant republishing rights to other outlets; you can’t republish our material wholesale or automatically—you need to select articles individually; you can’t republish the photos or graphics on our site without specific permission; you should drop us a note to let us know when you’ve used one of our articles.

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