Endangered Species

Saving the Last Rhinos

The last female rhino in South Africa’s Krugersdorp Game Reserve has been found dead, and she’s the 136 rhino there to be killed this year.  Obviously, drastic measures are needed to preserve the remaining rhinos.  The idea to call in police used to dealing with organized crime is excellent.  As well, park managers should consider dehorning the remaining rhinos to try to thwart the poacher’s desire to sever horns and kill more rhinos.

black rhinoResearch has found that dehorning African Rhinos is worthwhile and can save them from poachers.  At least, the study published in Pachyderm No. 18, 1994,  found that when black rhinos in Zimbabwe were dehorned, only 14 or 15 out of 210 dehorned rhinos were poached.

The study of the loss of most of Hwange, Zimbabwe’s dehorned white rhinos found that the dehorning was not performed often enough and the anti-poaching protection activities were stopped.  Thus, rhinos with enough regrown horn to be deemed profitable by poachers were killed, and no one was there to stop them.  The study also found that rhinos need to be dehorned every 1.3 years to deter poachers.

Further, some poachers who spent time tracking a rhino might kill a dehorned rhino in order to not spend more time tracking it again.  Considering that the South African poachers today use airplanes and visual location of the rhinos, hopefully they would see the rhino was dehorned and leave it alone.

Another explanation for killing a dehorned rhino involved speculators exterminating all rhinos in order to increase the value of illegally held stockpiles.  This situation can likely only be solved through increasing policing.

black rhinosPolicing and other anti-poaching activities work together to conserve rhinos.  Science Daily has reported that when Zimbabwe found that poachers were killing rhinos, after people were allowed to live in the conservancies and anti-poaching patrols had been relaxed, they responded with a multi-faceted approach.   The Lowveld Rhino Project intensified monitoring of rhinos using skilled trackers and radiotelemetry.  Rhinos were moved away from unsafe areas, and the most vulnerable rhinos were dehorned.  Rapid reaction units, community awareness programmes, and technical support to develop options for wildlife-based land reform, were also undertaken.  The program resulted in the achievement of some of the highest rhino population growth rates ever recorded, up to 10 per cent per year.

Sadly, the events of the last few years are tragic.  Suspected corruption in Zimbabwe has resulted in 26% of the living rhino population being lost, and  89% of all black rhinos illegally killed in Africa, since 2006, according to Rhino Conservation.  While this puts more pressure on South Africa to conserve the remaining rhinos, I also trust that South Africa will be different and could maintain a successful program.  Perhaps the Zimbabwe rhinos should be moved?

When a Javan rhino was recently found poached, the Indonesian Rhino Foundation worked with a team that is creating a 7 mile (12 km.) long electric fence around a new 10,000 acre sanctuary and breeding ground beside the park.  I wrote about this on June 24th in Javan Rhino Conservation.  Perhaps South Africa, given that Krugersdorp Reserve is such a large area, could move the remaining rhinos into a narrower area to keep them safer?

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Alison Wheatley

Alison Wheatley

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