The wildlife parks in South Africa loosened coronavirus restrictions after a year-long lockdown that led to a rise in Rhino poaching. There were strict restrictions placed on international travel last year, which kept the poachers at bay. In 2020 alone, 394 rhinos were poached, viz. 30% lesser than the year before.
Rhino Poaching Is Cruel and Illegal
What exactly is rhino poaching? It involves both local and international criminal syndicates smuggling high-value commodities across the borders, most likely Asia. This is a cruel process where rhinos are shot with a tranquilizer gun before their horns are ripped off, causing the beast to bleed to death.
Once the rhino has been sedated, they cut the animal’s horns off with a chainsaw. Mark Gerrard, the managing director of Wildlife ACT, an NGO, told Mongabay that it was a traumatic experience. It had a face mask on it to block its vision and earplugs in its ears to reduce trauma, but it does not make it any less disheartening. The horn is made up of keratin, making it valuable for smuggling.
South Africa saw an improvement in cases, so they decided to ease the travel restrictions in November. Jo Shaw, the African Rhino Lead for WWF International Network, in an interview mentioned that since late 2020 and 2021, the landscape and Kruger National Park experienced a steep increase in the numbers of rhino poaching incidents. She said that it was a real threat, as poaching pressure has increased since lockdown to meet the demand of international markets.
Julian Rademeyer, the director of the organized crime observatory for east and southern Africa, said that some rhinos are killed with hunting rifles before they are dehorned. The Reserves have found themselves battling with the budget crisis, and the pandemic has led to less tourism in the country, which has led them to cut down on anti-poaching patrols, which posed a threat to the rhinos.
Veterinarians cut the horn from the stub, which prevents it from bleeding to death. There have been reports that suggest Balule Nature Reserve at the greater Kruger system has dehorned 100 rhinos since 2019. Frances Craigie, the chief director of enforcement at the Environmental Ministry, told Reuters that South Africa has 16,000 rhinos located within its borders. The poaching has made it hard for the Rhino population to exist in the North-East region.
The Dehorn Approach Is Succesful
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, a South African governmental organization, worked with Wildlife ACT to dehorn the white rhino population in Spioenkpop Nature Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal province to deter poachers from killing the rhinos for their horns. A significant number of white rhinos have been targeted by poachers previously, so they had to do this to protect them.
They dehorn the animals to reduce the incentive for poachers to get fewer rewards, preferably none, to carry out this illegal activity. Gerrard mentioned that rhinos use their horns to defend their territory. They decided that it was better off to dehorn the entire population to protect them against the poachers.
During the pandemic, it has been hard for the country’s wildlife reserves to keep the animals safe as they depended on the tourism revenue, which saw a massive dip. The authorities took them to safe locations, but they were broken into and taken away. Dehorning is the only interim solution that has been effective to keep the animals alive. It takes around 18 to 24 months for the rhino horns to regrow, which is a temporary fix.
Conservationists have been dehorning rhinos since 2015 at KwaZulu-Natal province, which has proved to be the best way to reduce poaching. Dehorning is not the only solution; they require solid law enforcement to monitor the reserves. You may be dismayed to hear that 2014 was found to be one of the deadliest years for rhinos as 3000 poaching incidents had been reported across the continent and 1,173 in South Africa. There has been a steady decline in poaching incidents since then, but it is still a cause of worry.
In 2017, it was recorded that South Africa has the largest population of white rhinos, and it was when they decided to make it legal to sell rhino horns. It was heavily criticized as it would pave the way for an increase in poaching. Dehorning has proven to be successful in the interim, as poaching incidents have reduced drastically in some parts of the country.