​Why Do Some Reserves Dehorn Their Rhinos?

​Why Do Some Reserves Dehorn Their Rhinos?

Posted by Leanne Sturrock on Oct 30, 2017

Throughout time, various methods have been put into action in an attempt to stem the poaching epidemic. Painting the horn bright pink, employing armed on-site rangers, and even poisoning the horn are all tried and tested methods in the protection of rhinos (the latter method posing no threat to the animal itself.) The best-known prevention, however, is the removal of the horn.

Carried out on reserves throughout Africa, the removal of rhino horns is the most practiced deterrent to date. The first country to use this method was Namibia, and between the years of 1989 and the early 1990’s, not a single dehorned rhino was poached. While criminals are not always dissuaded by the removal of the horn (even a stub of the horn can be worth thousands of pounds), the odds of hornless rhinos being killed for such a commodity are significantly decreased – that said, such an extreme should only be considered as the final option, and should also be a publicised event.

Rhino looking into camera

Of course, this method alone is not enough to prevent poachers from killing innocent rhinos. For dehorning to be truly effective, other anti-poaching methods also need to be put into place. Heightened security measures, such as specially-trained armed rangers, serve as further deterrent, and other preventative methods (such as community education from an early age) could stop people entering the trade. Without these extra measures, rhinos are still likely to be poached, regardless of whether they have been dehorned. A tiny fraction of the horn is still considered to be a valuable commodity in countries and, for some, the gamble to obtain such a profitable material is worth the risk.

We recently spoke to our partners on the Rhino and Elephant Conservation Project to get an expert’s insight into the practice of rhino horn removal. The team were keen to point out that, while it is not law in Zimbabwe to remove the horns, it is a highly recommended practice suggested by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. The project has been dehorning its rhinos since the mid 1990’s, with each rhino being dehorned every 2 years. The method involved tranquilising the rhino for safety, before proceeding to saw the horn off to a few inches above the nerves. In all, this removes around 1kg of horn – a weighty amount, but worthwhile in the fight against poachers.

Rhino dehorning

Once the horn has been removed, the team then follow a strict format to dispose of the item. "The removed horn is carefully weighed, collected, and taken into custody of Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. They have a central highly secured vault in Harare. All of our dehorning operations are supervised by a member of Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority."

As previously pointed out, there is no illusion that the dehorning process is the sole method to prevent poaching. The team at the project have various ways in which to tackle such an issue. "Education and community work are considered by us to be a vital tactic in decreasing poaching. Poverty, overpopulation, and scarce land resources are the biggest threats to our rhino on the ground. We carry out this community awareness and education work to the best of our ability, but funding is still low and lacking for the more widespread campaigns and well-funded empowerment opportunities we would ideally like to carry out."

Rhino dehorning

While funds are tight, the team still work hard to enforce such methods. ‘We currently employ a highly trained, well-armed and equipped anti-poaching team, as well as having secure fence lines and gates, which are electrified wherever possible. Good communication systems and informer networks are important, and we also have a local community that sees value in wildlife, with well-educated families and children in our area.’ It is this latter point which brings some hope: for children to be raised understanding the importance of wildlife conservation, they may be compelled to protect the animals throughout their lifetime, rather than turning against them.

Reilly Travers, the project’s game park manager, summarises: "We take a very multi-faceted and holistic approach to anti-poaching. Our most important defence involves well-trained boots on the ground, awareness et cetera. Dehorning is an additional precaution. We are 100% committed to doing anything possible to keep our rhino well protected. A rhino’s natural defence is their horn. Unfortunately, in this day and age, a horn will not defend them from a bullet. Not having one might."

If you would like to volunteer on the Rhino and Elephant Conservation Project, head to the project page now to find out more.


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