Rhinos: groups question public de-horning move

2010-07-09 00:00

THE Game Rangers’ Association of Africa (GRAA) and Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (Wessa) have questioned the drastic decision by a private game reserve to embark on the public de-horning of its rhino population in a bid to deter poaching.

A travel company recently published an advertisement inviting guests at Nambiti Hills, a lodge in Nambiti private game reserve near Ladysmith, to be part of a “once in a lifetime opportunity” when the reserve de-horns its rhino population on July 23 to 25, and July 30 and August 1.

The “rhino de-horning experience”, including accommodation and meals, is being advertised for R3 999 per person sharing.

The GRAA said in a media statement it does not believe this act will be of benefit to the rhino or Nambiti and said other measures should be explored.

Wessa expressed concern about the “commercialisation of a situation that is of a very serious nature”.

“This response seems reactionary and one that should not be considered before other alternatives have been comprehensively eliminated,” the organisation said.

The suggested measures include increasing security, including the monitoring of rhinos and employing trained staff; micro-chipping of both rhino horns; getting input from reputable organisations with a history of dealing with rhino poaching; taking into account the social dispositions of rhinos without horns, especially in a big five reserve; and engaging with like-minded organisations and law enforcement agencies.

“Another point to consider for a tourist destination is the value of having rhinos with horns. Tourists who take home images of hornless rhinos could send out a very negative message, one that we believe is not necessary in South Africa,” said Wessa.

The Witness was unable to contact an official spokesperson from Nambiti game reserve for comment yesterday. However, a source said the reserve has the best intentions and the interests of the rhinos at heart.

The de-horning programme is to be managed and carried out by a team of experts.

The GRAA has said there is no guarantee that de-horning the rhinos will in fact stop poaching. In other parts of southern Africa, a mass dehorning programme undertaken in the past has failed to deter poachers from killing rhino.

The experiences of the patron of the GRAA, Dr Ian Player, an active member, also showed that “a poacher will shoot even if there is just a stump of a horn remaining”.

The GRAA points out that once the rhino horn is taken off, it will start to grow back again and the rhino will have to be immobilised again to remove the re-growth.

Aslo, the GRAA said, the horns that are removed cannot be traded and will need to be stockpiled, posing a security risk.

Commenting on the escalating poaching of rhino in South Africa, where 124 of the animals have been slain thus far this year, Wessa said: “One rhino lost to criminal activity is one rhino too many.

“The last century of conservation has taught up that we cannot sit back on our laurels and think we are in the clear.”

Wessa applauded recent arrests for rhino poaching and urged the courts to “hand down appropriate sentences” to those found guilty of “brutalising our natural heritage and stealing from our nation”.

Wessa said that although the chances of survival appear good for a white rhino cow that was found alive with hideous injuries inflicted by poachers who cut off her horn with a chainsaw recently at Tugela Private Game Reserve, the animal has lost its sense of smell. It now breathes through its exposed nasal cavity.

Smell is vital for a white rhino to find food, sense threats and find and identify other rhino.

The rhino’s tiny calf died of starvation.

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