South Africa has dehorned dozens of rhinos in three popular game parks. It’s a controversial move aiming to prevent poachers who are taking advantage of the crash in tourism to kill rhinos and sell their horns.
Dehorning leaves rhinos with horns too small for poachers to bother with, Nico Jacobs, helicopter pilot and founding member of the non-profit organization Rhino 911, said. They tranquilize a rhino and remove his or her horn with an electric saw.
Rhinos are being dehorned in Pilanesberg National Park and the Mafikeng and Botsalano game reserves, all northwest of Johannesburg.
Working with authorities, Rhino 911 began dehorning three years ago. Jacobs said they had since seen a drop in poaching. The numbers of rhinos in the parks, and how many have been poached, are kept secret to protect them. Experts fear the recent absence of tourists due to the global lockdown may already have spurred a poaching spike.
Dehorning is controversial, especially as it makes male rhinos vulnerable in fights. It takes around three years for a horn to grow back.
“One of the only solutions that we have now is to trim the rhinos’ horns and so we’ve started this unprecedented practice to try and protect these animals by removing their horns. We not saying it’s the absolute solution,” Jacobs said.
Rhinos have been around for 30 million years, but decades of hunting and habitat loss have reduced their numbers to about 27,000 today, according to the International Rhino Foundation. A poaching surge has wiped out thousands in the past three years.
Rhino horns are used in East Asia in medicinal potions, despite containing the same key component as human fingernails.