Search

Rhino Conservation through Dehorning

Rhino conservation

Occasionally, we propose an exciting rhino conservation experience to guests on some of our custom programmes. We get people from all around the globe who join or help fund rhino conservation efforts in South Africa while we facilitate them. Some of our students have had the opportunity to experience the intense and raw reality of rhino dehorning. It is always a sad, emotionally draining, yet humbling experience to remember for years. 

Why rhino dehorning?

Dehorning of rhinos depends on three main aspects:

  • The level of poaching threat, 
  • The quality of the security, and 
  • The size of the rhino population. 

Dehorning, funding for anti-poaching and strict security measures have contributed significantly to reducing rhino losses from poaching. However, dehorning and relocating rhinos to smaller and more secure areas has proven that the poachers’ focus shifts to other rhino populations that are easier to access. 

Most experts in the field feel that dehorning does discourage poachers from concentrating on a particular reserve. Others argue that if a poacher is already inside a reserve, he would be just as likely to shoot a dehorned rhino as a horned rhino if he comes across one. 

Specific incidents have revealed that dehorning alone is not enough. Effective anti-poaching security measures should also be in place to reduce poaching successfully. Depending on the threat level, experts suggest that if a reserve can’t implement adequate security to protect vulnerable populations, it is better to translocate them to safer areas. Therefore, dehorning individuals may not be necessary. 

helicopter and vehicles

The dehorning process

Step 1:

Rhino dehorning is a costly and complicated procedure and starts with the rhino being darted from a helicopter or, occasionally, from the ground in smaller reserves. The helicopter will herd the rhino to an open area close to a road before the sedation kicks in.

Step 2:

Once down, the rhino’s eyes are covered, and the ears are plugged to minimise the effects of the procedure while samples of hair, blood, tissue and measurements are taken and recorded. If necessary, the rhino is kept cool by pouring cold water over its body. 

Step 3:

A pen marks the point of removal – usually 7cm from the base of the front horn and 5cm from the base of the back horn. While the animal is under sedation, a chainsaw or hand-saw cuts the horn off horizontally.

Step 4:

The stump is trimmed to remove excess horn at the base, then smoothed and covered with Stockholm tar to prevent cracking and drying. The horn shavings are caught on a ground sheet and burnt after the procedure. 

rhino down and people
marking the rhino horn

Step 5:

While the dehorning procedure occurs, other crew members scan the rhino’s microchip, remove the old tracking collar, and fit a new one to one of its ankles.

Step 6:

The removed horns are immediately marked, taken to an undisclosed location, and stored in a bank vault for security. The entire procedure, from the first dart to the last jab, takes only about 30 minutes. 

Saving one rhino at a time!

Rhino dehorning does not entirely fix the problem, but much evidence proves that poachers have ignored dehorned rhinos on certain occasions. Many people believe that we aren’t winning the war on poaching, but we think that if we can keep one rhino or more alive daily, that is a battle won!

Photographs © Vinicio Herrera

References

C. Harvey, 2013. ScienceLine – Caught in the Crosshairs. [Online]
Available at: https://scienceline.org/2013/12/caught-in-the-crosshairs/
[Accessed 27 June 2023].

PA. Lindsey, A. Taylor, 2011. A study on dehorning African Rhinoceroses as a tool to reduce the risk of poaching. Report on the impacts of dehorning, pp. 1-60.

R. du Toit, N. Anderson, 2013. Dehorning Rhinos. Wildlife Ranching, Vol 6 (No 1), pp. 82-85.

Save the Rhino, 2017. Save the Rhino – Dehorning. [Online]
Available at: https://www.savetherhino.org/thorny-issues/de-horning/
[Accessed 27 June 2023].

 

About the Author:
EcoTraining Connect

EcoTraining Connect

EcoTraining, which has been in operation since 1993, is the innovator and top provider of training for safari guides and wildlife experts in Africa.

Explore more

student sitting in the game viewer
Blog

The first 24 hours on an EcoTraining Practical Course

There’s one for aspiring professional Field Guides, taking an entire year. There’s one specifically for birding enthusiasts, taking just seven days. And there’s an extensive range of other ones in between. EcoTraining’s practical courses and experiences can cater to many different needs, but they all guarantee one thing: intense quality time immersed in nature! EcoTraining graduate Wim tells the story of his 35-day Practical Field Guide course, which took him first to Karongwe and then to Pridelands.

Read more
group of students on a birding course
Blog

Popular Birding Book Takes Flight

The newly revised Second Edition of Robert’s Birds of Greater Kruger book was released! It is a fresh and new edition, from the introduction to new chapters, habitat descriptions, checklists, distribution maps, illustrations, and photographs—and it only took three hard years to revise.

Read more
group photo of field guide students
Blog

Globalization in the Wild

My dad’s experience at EcoTraining was genuinely remarkable. It was an incredible example of how people from different backgrounds and cultures can come together to learn and appreciate nature. The diverse group of companions he met at the camp, including those from Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, UAE, and Reunion, made the experience even more enriching. He learned from instructors from various countries, explored the African wilderness, and encountered awe-inspiring birds. It was a unique opportunity to witness globalization in the wild.

Read more

Start your wildlife career

Want to become a field or nature guide? Explore our immersive courses and training programmes for professional safari guides and guardians of nature, taught and led by experts in the industry.

EcoTraining offers career and accredited courses, wildlife enthusiast courses, gap year programmes and customised group travel courses.

Join our nature-loving community.