CUTTING FOR SURVIVAL

The horn of a rhino is made out of keratin and continuously grows. In the natural environment, the animal’s horn can get shorter as it gets rubbed against trees and stumps or sometimes it is knocked off during a fight with another rhino, still leaving the growth platelet. In converse, and in support of the illegal trade in rhino horn, rhinos are brutally maimed and killed for their horn.

As a result of recent and increased losses, and despite many counter poaching successes, the decision was recently made to dehorn the rhinos on Kempiana Contractual National Park, where the College is based. This was enabled with funding raised by Nkombe Rhino. And here special thanks must go to Rowan Ferreira, Joe Pietersen and Willem Pietersen for their commitment to ensuring the survival of this iconic species.

With the support of various teams, including the College’s aerial support and K9 units, the animals were located and darted. With rhinos being darted for the dehorning process, it was also a golden opportunity for the College’s Research and Development (R & D) Department to take measurements of the size of the horns and other variables thought to be important. In time, this information will be used to guide managers when it comes to cutting the horns again. In addition, the process also allowed the team to add telemetry tags to the pre-cut holes in the animal’s ears, that had now healed. In some cases, new holes were cut for the telemetry tags to be inserted when these animal are next darted.

Whilst being blessed with some of the best wildlife vets in the industry, who oversaw the entire dehorning and tagging process on Kempiana, cutting the holes is a process in itself. Various methods are being tested, and with time being a critical factor, a new punch to speed up the process will now also be looked into.  “Once the animal is asleep, and laying in the required position to ensure proper blood flow to all extremities, there is a limited time frame in which to take the needed measurements and to document the process whilst also ensuring the successful recovery of the animal after the two procedures,” said Prof. Alan Gardiner who heads up the College’s  R & D department.

“With the continuous documentation of observations made, the College’s R & D team is able to address the viability of current methods. This in turn also allows us to look at new or alternative methods, which can be developed to further support not only the management of rhino in around the College’s area of operation, but also to inform best practice,” he added.

3 Responses
    1. Southern African Wildlife College

      Hi Steve, thank you for your question.
      Management authorities have been monitoring the social impact for a while, as it was believed in densely populated rhino areas that the territorial bulls would be at a disadvantage without their horns. So far we have not found this to be the case. However, with rhino numbers being drastically down in many areas, fewer intraspecific fights occur. We will keep monitoring the situation. At present there is a far greater danger from a poacher than from another rhino so, apart from other counter poaching interventions, this is the best option to ensure the greatest chance of survival.

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