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  • Julia de Beer

What needs to be done to protect and save a species...

One can safely assume that when given a choice to see a horned rhino over a de-horned one, the prior option would be chosen. However, when it comes to seeing rhinos on safari - guests would rather see a dehorned rhino than no rhino at all!

Rhinos are still being poached for their horns at an alarming rate, and it is for this reason that the Thornybush Nature Reserve has taken the necessary step to dehorn their rhino population. Whilst dehorning is not the silver bullet in preventing rhino poaching, it has in conjunction with other protection methods proven to be a useful tool in the anti-poaching artillery.

The Thornybush Nature Reserve is open to the Kruger National Park which allows the free movement of rhinos, so any horned animals that come onto the reserve from the Kruger are immediately darted and dehorned - an extremely costly affair!

Just like human fingernails, the rhino horns do grow back over time, requiring dehorning to take place every 18 to 24 months to remain effective as an anti-poaching tool. There have been no adverse behavioural affects noticed in rhino that have been dehorned.

Whilst it may seem like a brutal process, dehorning is not a painful experience, nor does it cause any harm at all to the rhino. It is always carried out by professional veterinary and conservation teams, and on a positive note dehorning has shown to reduce the number of fighting-related mortalities in these rhino populations.

Using both a fixed-wing aircraft and a helicopter, once a horned rhino is spotted from the air it will be darted with an anaesthetic, which takes a few minutes to take effect. A ground team will swiftly locate the rhino and prepare it for the dehorning. The rhino’s ears and eyes are covered to reduce the noise and any damage from the chainsaw, which is used to saw off the horn, making sure not to disturb the sensitive areas at the base.

Sentiments regarding rhino welfare have never run higher and experiencing a rhino dehorning will cause a confusing mix of emotions. From distressing pity to embarrassing sorrow, that we humans have caused a rhino to go through this; switching to raging anger at the perpetrators of this heinous crime; and finally immense relief that these defenceless animals are instantly less attractive to a poacher.

Siviti guests were able to witness this emotional experience in 2020 when seven horned Kruger rhinos that had come onto the Thornybush Reserve were dehorned. “Talk about a 10-minute roller-coaster ride of emotions,” said Daniela, unable to suppress her tears! “It was an incredible experience that I feel very privileged to have witnessed, and I wish to thank the owners of the Thornybush Nature Reserve for embarking on this costly procedure to try and save Africa’s rhinos!”

A small fee is charged to attend a dehorning, the proceeds of which go toward the veterinary fees for the procedure.

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