Wednesday, September 21, 2016

South African ranchers are dehorning rhinos. But is it the right thing to do?

The large bull rhino was about a hundred meters away. The jeep carrying the darting team moved closer, there was a popping sound and the bull twitched and moved off with a dart clearly visible in his upper leg. Within two minutes he was down on his knees. The dehorning team approached quickly, attached blinkers to cover his eyes as a group of ranch hands held him down and attached a rope to his back leg. Once the measurements were done, a line was carefully drawn around the large front horns and the smaller rear ones leaving about four or five centimeters below the cut line to ensure growth would continue and there would be no damage to the horn bed where it joins the skull. A battery driven saw was then used to cut through the horn, which took little more than a minute. Someone sprayed cold water on to the horn to prevent over-heating and burn injuries. Then the horn was off. The team cleaned up the edges of the horn stump and gathered up any shaving or horn dust and sealed them in marked bags. The two horns were measured, weighed and marked with indelible ink. When a rhino is first dehorned DNA samples are taken for future identification. The main horn from the first rhino I saw dehorned weighed 565g, the smaller horn 67g and the shavings 45g. This would be worth an estimated US$40 000 in Vietnam and China, the main markets for poached ivory horn. That's according to rhino owner John Hume and Kruger Park Chief Ranger Nicholus Funda, who gave me the latest estimates of horn prices. The horns and shavings from dehorned rhino are kept in a bank safe or secure depository. Dehorning is practiced on many South African private reserves and is seen as a way of deterring poachers. It has even been used on some parks and conservancies in Zimbabwe and Namibia, according to a study on the effects of dehorning. Dehorning itself is not hugely controversial - what is, is whether the harvested horn should be sold. This will be debated, with vehement arguments on both sides, at the CITES conference in Johannesburg in September 2016...more

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