De-horning rhinos is never the first choice
“The day that we started de-horning, I didn’t sleep that night, in fact for days beforehand, wondering if it was the right decision.”
– Simon Naylor, Phinda Reserve Manager
Neither is it an easy choice. However, in early 2016, &Beyond was faced with this difficult decision. USD 100 000 was the going black market value in Asia for one kg of rhino horn. Incredibly, made from the same material as fingernails, rhino horn was fetching a higher price than platinum. There was a sobering message in the escalating poaching statistics; some reserves in the area had lost all their rhino and others had started the process of de-horning. There were increasing numbers of incursions onto the Phinda Private Game Reserve (KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa). Without some serious intervention, Phinda’s rhino population had no hope of survival. In May 2016, the decision was taken to implement a de-horning programme.
The last Phinda rhino lost to poachers was 2 ½ years ago. In looking back, Simon Naylor reflects that in those dark days, de-horning certainly gave Phinda’s population a better chance. However this process is certainly not a stand-alone solution, and &Beyond has put other stringent counter-measures in place. These include doubling our field ranger force; specialised military training of these rangers; aerial patrols; a canine unit; uncompromising security measures; impact-awareness activities for our guests, and the active education and involvement of all five communities surrounding our reserve.
When asked about the importance of this community education and involvement, Simon explained it like this: ‘Community buy-in and support is crucial and vital if wildlife and wild areas are to exist into the future. Education, awareness and real benefits must be felt by communities surrounding a park-like Phinda. In the case of rhino conservation, our communities are our first line of defence. Without their support rhinos will not exist in Africa no matter how much security a park has. But they need to understand their value to not only the park but to themselves first.’
Quick Fact! Over the last year, &Beyond South Africa has given a staggering 3 174 lessons in conservation. Included in this total, are 2 261 game drives and conservation lessons that have been held on the reserve as part of the ground-breaking Environmental Education Programme.
‘Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn”
– Benjamin Franklin
Involving the community
Involvement was a key driver behind the recent 2018 de-horning exercise for the community that took place on Phinda. Leaders, teachers and senior community members from all five communities surrounding our Phinda reserve were invited to participate. One Induna (Headman) from the KwaNibela community said he never thought he would ever see a rhino in the wild, let alone touch one before he died. He described it as one of the happiest moments of his life. All the members that took part now have an emotional investment in the continued success of Phinda’s rhino conservation endeavours. Thank you to our &Beyond guests, Andrea Neves and Stephanie Fuller. Your generous sponsorship made this invaluable community educational possible.
To minimise risk and stress on the rhino: this non-negotiable objective lies at the heart of each and every de-horning exercise. A helicopter, several ground vehicles, a highly experienced veterinarian, immobilising drugs, and a team of skilled trackers and rangers, each a key element in achieving this objective. Blindfold; earplugs; oxygen on standby. Careful measuring to ensure the cut is made just above the growth point. Chainsaw to ensure quick cutting action, minimising the amount of tranquillisation needed. Two spare blades at hand, just in case.
And now, over two years later?
The rhino population on Phinda are an integral part of South Africa’s core population. The Phinda Rhino Management Plan ensures a tight focus on the protection and management of these magnificent animals. In addition, Phinda works in partnership with the WWF Black Rhino Range Expansion Project and Rhinos Without Borders. As of now, November 2018, a total of 87 rhino have been translocated to Botswana as part of the collaborative &Beyond and Great Plains Conservation initiative.
And all this in the name of what?
Not a mind-altering drug. Not a precious metal. Simply an appendage made from the same material as your finger nail, that has been imbued with the mythical properties of virility, healing and illusionary status. The questions around de-horning continue, and rightly so. It is only in keeping the spotlight on this procedure, and the critically endangered animals caught up in this crisis that will keep the light of awareness burning.
For more information about rhino de-horning, click here.
How can you make a difference?
Each and every guest that travels with us makes a valuable contribution to our conservation endeavours. In addition, by participating in one of our Phinda conservation activities, not only will you have experienced something rare and unforgettable, but you will have made an indelible difference.