Man at His Best

Dehorning Rhinos To Save Them

Another step in the battle against poaching and the illegal trade of wildlife parts.

BY LESTARI HAIRUL | May 20, 2016 | Culture

Photography by andBeyond

It’s finally come down to this. A pre-emptive strike of sorts in the form of a wide-scale dehorning of all the rhinos at andBeyond’s Phinda Private Game Reserve has been carried out this week. And all this to deter the poachers. The situation has reached critical point ages ago; the count now is up to three rhinos being poached daily, and that’s more than 5000 rhinos in total since the recent surge in rhino poaching was noticed in 2008. Unsustainable for the rhino population of Africa whose numbers range between 5042 to 5455 black rhinos and between 19,682 and 21,077 white rhinos

The dehorning process itself doesn’t hurt the rhino. According to Joss Kent, CEO of andBeyond, “The rhino's horn is cut off just above the growth point of the horn. During the whole process, the rhino is briefly sedated, and the rhino does not experience pain. The sedation process used is a tried and tested method that the experienced and qualified veterinary and conservation staff at andBeyond Phinda have perfected over many years. The animal's safety is always the primary concern during these procedures.”

This comes at the heel of another recent report out of South Africa, of a plan to airlift 80 rhinos to Australia just so they have a fighting chance to breed and recoup the dwindling numbers. The dehorning is meant to be a temporary measure, as the team faces pressure from relentless poaching efforts coupled with rising costs of security options. Akin to the trimming of human fingernails, the rhino’s horn will also grow back, albeit at a slower pace of about two years. Could poachers get ideas then, of running their own horn harvesting racket?

"[Rhinos are] the second largest land animal in the world and as we’re sure you can imagine, not easy animals to handle. It would be physically impossible for poachers to exercise this idea even if they did think about it. From experience with our own Rhinos Without Borders campaign to translocate up to 100 rhinos from South Africa to the relative safety of Botswana’s wilderness areas, the level of expertise and intensity of the logistics alone to just move the animal would be far beyond the skill or interest of poachers as far as what we have come to expect of them," says Simon Naylor, andBeyond Phinda Reserve Manager. 

The driver for the demand in rhino horns is not China, but Vietnam due to the recent prosperity boom and rise in multimillionaires in the country. Rhino horns are seen as status symbols and are normally gifted as part of successful business deals, though belief in it having aphrodisiac and cancer-eliminating properties also persist. But all the belief in it giving you massive-dick-cancer-fighting-hangover-curing powers in the world will not change the fact that there is zero scientific evidence for the efficacy of any product of the illegal wildlife parts trade. Kenya recently sent out a firm message by burning another massive stockpile of ivory back in April. But will that really decrease demand? 

It is a different process for the collected rhino horns of this operation. “The horns will all be placed in safe storage at an undisclosed location, under the strictest security measures. There are no plans to burn them as we feel that it is a valuable resource that would be wasted if it were destroyed. While there are no plans to sell the horns at this stage, should this change at some time in the future, the sale of rhino horns would raise significant funds that could be redirected into our conservation and security efforts,” says Kent. 

If regulated sale and legalisation is the hope of anti-drug war advocates for the end to the bloodshed, could it spell something similar for the trade in rhino horns? There are no clear answers for now; the focus is on ending the demand. The horns are currently speculated to be even more expensive than gold, diamonds, cocaine even. Man has for thousands of years valued highly the things he can’t obtain easily, even to the detriment of nature. But perhaps it’s too much of a longshot to suggest some soul-searching on the part of the avid consumer. 

andBeyond's Phinda Private Game Reserve has been a vital habitat for recouping white rhino numbers since its inception and was also the original location for the Black Rhino Expansion Project. For more information on their collaborative efforts with Great Plains Conservation in translocating rhinos from high-risk poaching areas of South Africa to the low-risk area in Botswana, visit Rhinos Without Borders