While we support every initiative to safeguard the future of the species anywhere in Africa, we believe that it is crucial to implement local solutions to local problems in each part of the continent affected by poaching. A vital part of this is ensuring the preservation of a core population of rhino in South Africa. To this end, we have invested heavily in stringent security measures at all our reserves in the country. However, in response to increased pressure from poachers and as part of our strategy to preserve our rhino numbers, the time had come for drastic measures, and in 2016 we made a necessary decision to de-horn all adult rhino at &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve.
How exactly do you dehorn a rhino and does it hurt the rhino?
During the de-horning process, the rhino will be darted from a helicopter. This minimises the risk of losing the animal after darting and allows staff to herd the individual away from potentially dangerous obstacles. Once the animal is down, it will be blindfolded and have earplugs put in to minimise external stimuli. The rhino’s horn is then cut off just above the germinal layer (growth point) using a chainsaw (this may sound brutal but it is very quick and it is important for us to keep the time during which the rhino is tranquilised as brief as possible). Hoof clippers or a hoof cutter blade are then used to clip off the excess horn around the germinal layer, which is convex in shape. This process is similar to cutting one’s fingernails and the rhino does not experience any pain. There is no conclusive evidence of side effects to dehorned rhino. The research teams at &Beyond Phinda will constantly monitor the animals and record observed behaviour patterns, social dynamics, feeding, defence against predators, protection of young, etc.
What precautions will you take to ensure that the rhino won’t be harmed by the sedatives used during the de-horning process?
The sedation procedure used is a tried and tested method that the experienced and qualified veterinary and conservation staff at &Beyond Phinda have perfected over many years. The animal’s safety is always the primary concern during these procedures: the drug combination that is used has been perfected over 20 years and the animal’s vital signs (breathing, heart rate and blood oxygenation levels) are closely monitored by the veterinarian for the duration of the sedation.
What do rhinos use their horns for?
Along with their size and scent marking, rhinos use their horns as one of the measures for defending their territories. The horn is also an aid in foraging behaviour and helps the animals to dig for water, break branches and remove bark. In the case of females, the horns complement their sheer size in the defence of their calves from other rhinos and predators.
Will removing the rhinos’ horns prevent them from being able to protect themselves and their young against predators?
Rhinos do occasionally use their horns to protect their calves. However, studies have shown that dehorning has little impact on this and that mothers are able to successfully defend their calves without needing to use their horns. Meticulous land management practices at &Beyond Phinda mean that the reserve has a high density of preferred prey species for predators, which makes it extremely unlikely that rhinos would be targeted and need to protect their calves. In addition, most of the rhino population at &Beyond Phinda will be dehorned. As this population is managed, individuals will be carefully chosen for dehorning and will include any bulls with horns that could pose a threat to mothers and their young.
Will dehorning the rhino affect their behaviour?
There is no conclusive evidence of side effects to dehorned rhino. The research teams at &Beyond Phinda will constantly monitor the animals and record observed behaviour patterns, social dynamics, feeding, defence against predators, protection of young, etc.
Would dehorning the rhinos completely eradicate rhino poaching on Phinda?
Dehorning will not completely remove the risk of poaching. However, it has been proven that it significantly reduces pressure from poaching. &Beyond Phinda will continue to uphold all the stringent security measures that are currently in place to minimise the risk even further.
How long does it take for a rhino horn to grow back?
Rhino horn is composed of a fibrous protein called keratin, which is the same substance found in human fingernails and hair. Like fingernails and hair, it re-grows. The horn grows back at a rate of 6 – 8.5 cm (2 to 3 inches) per year for the anterior horn and 2.5 – 5 cm (1 to 2 inches) per year for the posterior horn. There is no difference in the regrowth rate between black and white rhino species.
What can I do to help save the rhino?
There are a number of initiatives that you can support financially to help save the rhino. &Beyond has partnered with Great Plains Conservation in the Rhinos Without Borders project, which is working to translocate rhino from high-risk poaching areas in South Africa to the relative safety of Botswana. Guests at the lodges at &Beyond Phinda can also donate to The Mun-ya-wana Conservation Fund, through StopRhinoPoaching.com with the money used to help protect the rhino at the reserve.