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Two white rhinos
© Tailor Made Safaris
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Rhino dehorning – the phrase alone is enough to make one quiver with anger and indignation. In the ideal world, the practise would not be necessary, but in light of the poaching onslaught, dehorning is proving to be an effective anti-poaching management tool when undertaken in combination with other strategies. 

Rhino poachers are after the horn, which gram-for-gram has a higher value than gold , and South Africa is currently losing about two rhinos per day to poaching. By dehorning their rhinos, protected area managers hope to reduce the incentive to poach those rhinos.

Given that rhino horn is made of keratin (the same material as our hair and fingernails), it is possible to painlessly remove almost the entire horn – as it is to cut your hair and clip your fingernails. It is believed, although not proven, that hornless rhinos suffer few negative effects when it comes to social dynamics.

But here is the catch: To dehorn just a single rhino costs about US$1,500, as it involved a highly experience team led by a veterinarian, helicopters, vehicles and very expensive drugs. And the horn regrows, so the dehorning process has to be repeated every 2-3 years. How do game reserves fund this exercise?

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Idealism aside, the unfortunate reality is that not many people are willing to donate the necessary funds. Some though, are willing to pay a fee to attend a rhino dehorning.

Guests staying at safari lodges in one private game reserve are now permitted to participate in a rhino dehorning operation, at the cost of about US$75. Up to 20 can participate at the same time, initially as ‘passive viewers’, although it is possible to be more hands-on once the rhino has been sedated, thereby enjoying an exciting hands-on experience.

We from Tailor Made Safaris were recently invited to witness one of these dehornings of a female white rhino, and below is a photo sequence to give you an idea of what it is all about.

Rhino dehorning exercise with helicopter
© Tailor Made Safaris

First, the team has to find the target rhino, from a helicopter. The vet is positioned with a dart gun next to an open door in the helicopter, to have a good shot at the rhino from above. Once the rhino is darted, it is shepherded to an open area, where the ground team can locate her and take over the process. In this case the patient is a female white rhino.

Rhino dehorning exercise with white rhino
© Tailor Made Safaris

The ground team moves in quickly on the rhino as she stumbles and staggers from the effects of the sedative, blindfolding her and coercing her to lie down in a comfortable position. Thereafter she is fitted with ear plugs and her face is covered with a protective mask to help her remain calm.

Rhino dehorning exercise
© Tailor Made Safaris

After the vet checks the well-being of the rhino, and administers some other necessary medication, guests can get out of the vehicles to have a closer look and help where possible.

Rhino dehorning exercise with rhino tranquillised
© Tailor Made Safaris

During the entire process, the vet and conservation staff provide a multitude of interesting information, and guests are allowed to help, touch and feel the rhino when permitted. After the horns have been removed, an antiseptic is applied and other medical checkups are completed.

Rhino dehorning exercise
© Tailor Made Safaris

Shortly thereafter, everyone gets back to the safety of the vehicle, and the vet administers the sedation antidote. Within a minute the rhino is up and walking away as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened.

Rhino dehorning exercise with rhino after dehorning
© Tailor Made Safaris
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