‘Reducing the reward’
Rhinos dehorned to deter poachers
Three white rhinos were dehorned at Port Elizabeth’s Kragga Kamma Game Park yesterday in the ongoing battle against poaching.
Even as the dehorning team assembled at the park just after dawn, the news was emerging of a poached rhino having been discovered on a Kirkwood game farm.
Police said the carcass was discovered on Thursday on Thorndale Safari Farm and the horns had been removed.
Eight rhino have now been killed by poachers in the Eastern Cape this year and, while few official poaching statistics are released, 1 028 rhino were slaughtered in South Africa last year.
Top wildlife vet Dr William Fowlds, who led the dehorning team at Kragga Kamma yesterday, said what he was doing was part of a two-prong effort “to reduce the reward and increase the risk”.
Park co-owner Mike Cantor said his team recognised that removing the animals’ horns would not completely remove the threat of poaching.
“We hope it will help, but we will be carrying on with all our patrols as normal.”
Fowlds’s first target was a cantankerous bull called Chuck (Norris) and the concern was that he might run towards the dam once he was darted.
But the tranquiliser soon slowed him to a “show pony” trot before he keeled over.
Assisting vet Dr Annie Mears blindfolded him to reduce his stress and a group of Vets Go Wild students in attendance leaped into action.
One took his rectal temperature, another checked his heart rate, another gave him shots of antiseptic and multivitamin, another slipped plugs into his ears and two others took swabs of blood from an ear to check oxygen levels.
Then the whole crew, including representatives from the provincial Environment Department and the police forensics laboratory, lined up on one side of Chuck and heaved him up off his flank.
This was to ease his breathing, which could have been restricted lying on his side, and to ready him for the dehorning. Fowlds marked the back and front horns with a koki and chainsaw carver Chris Lester moved in to cut along the line.
Rhino Run organiser Sian O’Keefe finished the job off with an electric sander.
Chuck’s horns, lethal, imposing and beautiful on him, were reduced to a few lumps and shavings of keratin, driving home the cruelty and futility of the poaching which feeds the demand from the East where the horn is used as a status symbol and in traditional medicine.
Cantor said dehorning a rhino in a larger park where it had to fend off predators would definitely be debilitating, but at Kragga Kamma there were no natural predators.
“It’s not something we like doing but we think it’s the best approach in the circumstances.” – Additional reporting by Gareth Wilson..