Zimbabwe says its practice of dehorning rhinos is bearing fruit, as it has kept poachers at bay and allowed the rhino population to gradually increase.
Matobo Park — about 500 kilometers southwest of Harare — is home to both the endangered black rhino and the threatened southern white rhino.
Elusive as they are today, rhinos are on the increase in Matobo, in part because of a policy to protectively remove their horns.
Poachers kill the animals to obtain the horn, which in traditional Chinese medicine is believed to have healing powers, although there is little evidence to support this.
Verity Bowman is director of Dambari Wildlife Trust, a wildlife conservation research organization, one of the NGOs taking part in anti-rhino poaching efforts with the government.
“The dehorning, of course, removes the incentive to poachers and increases the risk, for a low reward. And in small populations, we feel it is the way to go, and it has made a big difference to Matopo National Park by having all animals dehorned,” Bowman said.
Priscah Mupfumira, Zimbabwe’s environment, tourism and wildlife minister, told delegates at the just-ended African Union(AU) United Nations (UN) Wildlife Economy Summit that her country is winning the anti-poaching war.
“I am happy to report the number of poachers in Zimbabwe and in KAZA region has drastically reduced. We have good conservation programs to make sure that we look after our wild animals,” Mupfumira said.
Along with dehorning rhinos, Zimbabwe ensures that national park rangers have adequate camping equipment, cameras and GPS to patrol the parks and watch out for poachers.
But Bowman says it is not easy to stop the poaching of rhinos.
“Protection of rhinos is a very complicated affair, as you probably are aware, and there are a number of strategies which are in place,” Bowman said.
Zimbabwean officials keep the actual number of rhinos in the national parks a secret, to ensure poachers remain in the dark.
The strategies all help ensure that future generations will see rhinos in the national parks — not just in zoos.