Poachers determined to get horns from any of Zimbabwe’s rhinos, have a tough decision to make – risk getting killed for getting almost nothing.
Zimbabwe has taken on the tough decision to deface its rhinos in some state-run parks, by cutting off their horns to basically a stub, to save them from poachers who have gone to extreme lengths to get their ivory-filled horns, for use in traditional medicines in some Asian countries.
Veterinarian Lisa Marabini, founder trustee and Director of Operations for AWARE Trust Zimbabwe, is one the many concerned conservationist who believes this strategy is among the limited few to save the rhinos. She said the strategy reduces the reward to risk ratio.
“If a poacher is going to come into a Zimbabwean park, he’s going to get a very little reward for the huge risk he is taking. Because under Zimbabwean law, park rangers are also authorized to shoot to kill armed poachers in these rhino protection areas.”
The de-horning exercise has ended for the year, and was implemented in three of the country’s state run parks, which hold less than 100-rhinos by Marabini’s estimate. The rest of the estimated 600-rhinos are on private game reserves, which don’t have to follow the policy of the state run parks, to dehorn the rhinos.
Dehorning the rhinos involves tranquilizers and a chainsaw, explained Marabini, which then leaves literally nothing for the poacher to kill the rhino for.
“When we dehorn, there is a small amount of horn that is left on the rhino because that tiny bit of horn contains some blood vessels, so we cannot remove that,” said Marabini. “But it’s a few hundred grams compared to when the rhino has a seven kg (kilogram) horn on their, you know a fully grown seven kg horn on their face.”
Marabini said dehorning, while not the only method to save rhinos, has proved effective in the three parks it has been practiced since 2010.
“In two of those areas we have not lost a single white rhino to poachers in the last six years, and in the black rhino area that we assist, the poaching has been reduced dramatically, and we feel that the dehorning has got a lot to do with that.”
Along with dehorning, said Marabini, there’s equal need for well-trained security personnel.
“You need to also have increased security and you have to have your rangers trained almost like the military to deter poachers, to be able to shoot the poachers on sight.”
With the threat to rhinos increasing every year, Marabini said they have decided to engage the old age practice of dehorning, initially used in the 90s, to deter poachers for now.
“What we are doing now is crisis management, and we have to use every trick in the book to deter poachers,” said Marabini.
Dehorning can cost anywhere between $800 and $1,200 per rhino, said Marabini, depending on coverage protecting the rhino, with more dense areas costing higher.