Is Dehorning Rhino The Solution To Stop Poaching?

A dehorned Rhino in Hwange National Park


Zimbabwe has joined the Rhino dehorning crusade, despite its shortcomings and its unproven results.

A Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority board member said that 60 Rhinos have so far been dehorned and the target is 800.

“Our strategy is to try and save the Rhino, if the poachers know that the Rhino at Hwange National Park here does not have horns, they are unlikely to come here and kill it,” said Cephas Mudenda.

Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Angola form the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA) have all lost considerable numbers of  Rhinos. Dehorning has been suggested in some forums where KAZA member states attend.

However, as noble as the idea might sound, it has been undertaken before in Zimbabwe and the results were bad according to a report by

“In Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe during the early 1990s, the majority of dehorned Rhinos were killed just 12-18 months after being dehorned.

This Rhino was dehorned 3 months before it succumbed to poachers

“In Zimbabwe’s Save Valley Conservancy, six newly dehorned Rhinos were poached during January-August 2011 (one Rhino was killed within 24 hours and another within five days of being dehorned),” reads the report.

Part of the failure of saving the animals through dehorning has been that horns grow back overtime and when dehorned, the stub of the horn remains, although less profitable, it’s still valuable because the horn’s regrowth [rate] is about one inch per year.

Namibia, which was the first country to moot dehorning on the other hand, was successful in this enterprise from 1989 to the mid 90s. Not a single dehorned Rhino was poached during the period. Perhaps that is why they undertook the process again last year.

In Mpumalanga, South Africa, just over one-third of all the reserves’ Rhinos (excluding Kruger National Park) were dehorned, and out of the 33 Rhinos killed from 2009-11, only one was a dehorned Rhino.

A dehorned Rhino is incapacitated.

“The horn does not have any known biological function but it’s useful like a person’s hand. As such, it’s connected to the body through blood vessels. That is why dehorning is a delicate and life threatening procedure,” said Dr Mqhubi Nyathi, a veterinary scientist from Zimbabwe.

Bongani Mtinsi, a Zimbabwean professional hunter, says without the horn a Rhino is a high-risk animal in the jungle where it is survival of the fittest.

“The horn is a weapon. The Rhino fights for territory with it and so without, its dominance is compromised,” he said.

Rhinos also used their horns to mud-wallow as a means of thermoregulation, and for the purpose of coating the body with a layer of mud to rid themselves of ecto-parasites-irritating parasites that lives on or in the skin but not within the body.

Rhino trade

International trade in Rhino horn was banned in 1977 among the now 182 member countries of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) the body that governs international wildlife trade.

But because CITES only limits trade between countries, South Africa which is said to have the world’s largest Rhino population, and nearly all of the world’s 20,000 white Rhinos’ saw its Supreme Court of Appeal legalising horn trade again.

Those against say this opens flood gates to poaching activity. Interestingly Swaziland applied to sell its Rhino horn to the international market- if granted, it would break the 1977 ban.

In 2015, poachers killed a record 1,338 out of that 1,175 were from South Africa.

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