Written by: Alwyn Wentzel, Operations Manager at Amakhosi Safari Lodge
Photographs and video by: Mike Currie
On the 16th February 2016, Amakhosi Safari Lodge started with a rhino dehorning programme in an effort to reduce our risk in light of the ever increasing danger facing our rhinos nationally. Dehorning is normally seen as a last resort to stop or curb poaching in populations that have already been hard hit. We however want to focus on preventing losses as far as possible and the best way is by reducing the risk.
As we see it, there are two options when it comes to protecting rhino. Firstly, sell off rhino in high risk areas or secondly, dehorn them. Removing enough animals to effectively reduce risk also changes the breeding dynamics which in turn cause less births and then defeats the objective, so dehorning is then the only viable option if one is to maintain optimum breeding.
Amakhosi Safari Lodge has consulted with various experts on the risks and benefits of dehorning white rhino and the risks for the animals seems minimal in terms of mothers defending their calves against lion and rhinos fighting with each other. We have also left a handful of animals with their horns intact in our low risk zones and will monitor the need for further dehorning if necessary.
Dehorning is but one of many tools deployed to protect our rhinos and it goes hand in hand with effective patrolling, informant networks and most importantly, daily monitoring of each and every animal. We have a system of constant monitoring and when certain individuals have not been seen for a day or two we focus our efforts on locating them to verify their status. We are also monitoring closely if there are any obvious behavioural consequences due to dehorning.
We started dehorning our rhino very early on the morning of the 16th as the midday heat makes it too difficult to keep an anesthetised rhino cool, preventing serious damage to the animal caused by overheating. Every individual rhino is easily identified by their respective ear notchings and our monitoring teams were out locating the animals we identified as most important to dehorn.
Dr. Mike Toft was the veterinarian responsible for the darting, dehorning and re-waking of the animals. Mike has extensive experience with rhino and general wildlife. He is one of those professionals that does not lose his cool even under stressful and risky procedures; he made the whole operation look easy and effortless.
I must admit that when Mike cut the first rhino’s horn off with the chainsaw I felt a distinct feeling of remorse and disgust in the human race, but there was not much time for sentiment and desperate situations call for desperate measures. The cut horns were weighed, tagged and flown off the reserve to a secure vault in Durban.
The whole procedure seems very intrusive to the animal but does not physically harm it at all, the horn will grow back in a couple of years and we will need to trim the horns again in a year or two or hopefully let it grow back if the threat decreases.