Look: KZN reserve dehorns entire rhino population

By Karen Singh Time of article published Apr 29, 2021

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Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife successfully dehorned the entire white rhino population in the Spioenkop Nature Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal last week.

The operation was funded and supported by non-profit conservation organisation Wildlife ACT and was carried out over three days.

The dehorning was a large-scale operation involving experienced ground teams, wildlife veterinarians and highly skilled helicopter pilots who manoeuvred the rhinos into areas that are more easily accessible for the teams.

The officer in charge at the Spioenkop Nature Reserve, Eric Mlaba, said the chances of a rhino being poached are drastically reduced once the animal has been dehorned.

“In order to be effective, it is important that the entire population is dehorned, thereby reducing the incentives for poachers to consider Spioenkop as a target,” Mlaba said.

Mark Gerrard, the managing director of Wildlife ACT, said the initiative left him with a bittersweet feeling.

He said while there was a sense of accomplishment for the highly successful operation, it was “tainted by the unfortunate need to undertake such an invasive process due to the unnecessary demand for this animals’ keratinous horn”.

Ezemvelo said the team also notched the ears of several young rhinos that were dehorned for the first time as notching allows them to be easily identified by monitoring and field ranger teams in the reserve, thus ensuring effective management of the population.

During the dehorning process, the team on the ground sedate the animal and work quickly to remove the horn.

DNA samples are taken for the national rhino database, the sedation is then reversed and the team moves off to watch from a distance as the animal wakes and walks off.

“The operation needs to be carried out swiftly and efficiently, reducing stress and associated risk to the animals,” said Ezemvelo.

According to Ezemvelo, both black and white rhino populations in KZN were under pressure from poaching syndicates who trade their horn to consumers, primarily in Asian markets.

The organisation said it continued to protect some of the country’s key rhino populations in their network of protected areas.

Spioenkop is one of these areas, however, the reserve is in need of additional resources.

Mlaba said funding was desperately needed in order to make operations like these more frequent.

“A rhino’s horn grows back, which means that these rhino that we have just dehorned will all need to be dehorned again in 18 months to 2 years’ time,” he said.

He said the reserve appreciated the contribution from Wildlife ACT, whose support made this initiative possible.

Gerrard said partnerships were crucial to enable the long term success in the conservation sector.

“Wildlife ACT is pleased to be able to provide assistance to Ezemvelo to enable their conservation efforts.

“Sincere thanks must go to the Rhino Recovery Fund for enabling this operation and, of course, the dedicated conservation teams on the ground,” he said.


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