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


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].


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