South Africa: Chemical Treatment of Rhinoceros Horns

by Jan 25, 2013Conservation Threats, Rhino Poaching, Rhinos

Over the past few years there has been a shocking increase in rhino poaching for their horns. The horrific figures of rampant poaching indicate the urgent need for proactive and preventative measures to fight the current severe poaching threat.

On 20 December 2012, AFB Hoedspruit conducted the DNA sampling and Chemical Treatment of Rhinoceros Horns. AFB Hoedspruit was assisted by Lt Col Phillip Oosthuizen who initiated the project, Protract, Rhino Rescue Project who sponsored the treatment, the Green Kids, the Department of Environmental Affairs, the Veterinary Doctor Dr Van Niekerk and the Directorate Animal Health SAMHS.

During the last two months Five Rhinos have been poached and killed at Umhlametsi Private Nature Reserve on the farm Boston (North) adjacent to AFB Hoedspruit. In addition, prior to this there were recently three incidents of the breaching of security and an attempt to track and kill rhinos on Suikerkop (AFB Hoedspruit Buffer zone). This obviously calls for desperate measures to proactively implement strategies in order to safeguard the rhino population at AFB Hoedspruit.
TOPS Regulation Section 27 dd refers. The mentioned legislation necessitates that all rhinos in South Africa be micro chipped and included into a National database. Currently there are only two units within the SANDF that possesses white rhino populations.

AFB Hoedspruit also investigated the various options of safeguarding the rhinos and acknowledges the responsibility with regards to the sound management of this species. Various security aspects were addressed and frequent patrols and informal exercises are carried out on an adhoc basis to discourage and prevent potential killing or poaching of these animals.

As there are very little additional options, AFB Hoedspruit proposed that the horns of all the SA Air Force (SAAF) rhinos be treated rather than dehorned in order to endeavor and stop any further attempts to kill these magnificent animals.
The horn treatment strategy as opposed to the dehorning of the rhino has the following advantages:

  • Durability
  • Longer lasting (3-4 years as opposed to 1 year when dehorned)
  • Visible internally when used with dye
  • Horn becomes redundant and unusable when treated
  • Proactive if made well known (signs, publicity etc)
  • To date – no killing/poaching of rhinos with treated horns

When the rhino is temporarily immobilized for treatment DNA sampling is conducted to ensure sound management of this precious species in the SAAF. Although there are normally significant costs involved in such project, AFB Hoedspruit liaised with other researchers working on different challenges affecting rhino population and engaged with Dr Lorinda Hern from the Rhino Rescue Project who approved and supported this project and gave their consent to conduct such program free of charge on both the SA Air Force (SAAF) units who owns rhino’s.

The idea of poisoning the horns was circumvented by the need to treat the horn. The treatment of the horns with a mixture of ectoparasitacides coupled with an indelible dye would go a long way to helping achieve the goal of protecting rhinos from poaching. It is also believed that the treatment could potentially neutralize a dual threat of rampant poaching and reduce the cruel reality of poaching.

In the ongoing war against rhino poaching, a holistic and multi-pronged approach is necessary to contribute significantly to reducing the poaching scourge and deter the poachers. 19 Squadron supplied a helicopter to spot the rhinos, then the veterinarian darted the rhinos. The ground crew and veterinary team of experts stabilized the rhinos after the treatment.
The Green Kids Initiative (GKI) consisting of school children from rural areas assist to raise awareness about rhino poaching provides environmental education for schools, encourage sustainable environmental living practices and help to create environmental consciousness in communities.