Finding the Silver Bullet to Rhino Poaching
First identified as a major global concern in the 1970s, rhino poaching continues to plague southern Africa, decades later. Well-intended debates continue on the best possible solution for this gruesome problem, and yet we’re no closer to the silver bullet today, than we were 50 years ago.
We have, as a nation, taken various approaches that have brought us closer to conquering the illegal horn trade, one step at a time. Some controversial, some drastic, many of them flawed, these are the various methods being used to combat rhino poaching, both locally and worldwide.
Organizations such as WildAid.org put their focus on educating the misinformed consumers about the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products. Having coined the slogan, when the buying stops, the killing can too, the idea is to cut straight to the consumer, to reduce demand by means of education, in partnership with high-profile influencers and celebrities, such as Prince William, Jiang Yiyan, Yao Ming and David Beckham.
This has already seen significant success in countries such as Vietnam and China, where many have believed that rhino horn could heal a host of illnesses. In partnership with health departments, traditional doctors and campaign ambassadors, WildAid has done alarmingly well in raising public awareness about the threat to the rhino species.
From 2014 to 2016, the knowledge that there is little difference between rhino horn and human fingernails and hair had increased by 258%, from 19% of the population to 68%.
Truly showing that knowledge is power, these campaign efforts are critical in the war against poaching, and other wildlife atrocities.
Legalize and flood international horn trade market using stockpiles
As the saying goes, for every poacher arrested or killed, there are 100 more ready to step up to take his place. One of the proposed solutions to the predicament is to legalize the trade in rhino horn and remove the profitability of the illegal dealings that ultimately drive the poaching problem. Although highly controversial, the benefits of legalizing rhino horn trade could be multi-faceted:
- Rhinos will become desirable and valuable wildlife once again; more people will be willing to own and breed them, due to decreased risk and increased profit.
- The black market for rhino horn may be hugely impacted, and eventually crumble.
- Legal rhino horn trade may alleviate poverty in communities who can be taught to breed rhino both for re-sale to an emerging market, as well as to humanely remove the rhino horn without killing the animals.
The uncertainty around legalizing rhino horn trade is that southern Africa does not have the skills or structure to manage rhino horn trade, and that the impact on the black market is mere speculation. To take such a risk without careful calculation could spell disaster for the rhino population, and so the debate continues.
Inject non-fatal poisonous dye into rhino horn
As the majority of rhino horn being traded on the black market is ultimately intended for consumption for medicinal purposes, it has been made legal to inject a non-lethal poison into rhino horn. The horn is then dyed, using a non-toxic dye, to warn poachers and traders of the poison.
This method is two-fold. Rhino horn treated with this poison is intended to cause vomiting and mild sickness when ingested, in order to deter further use of horn as traditional medicine. On the ground, poachers are less likely to kill a rhino with a dyed horn, thereby saving the rhino’s life.
Dehorning the rhino
One of the most well known solutions in the rhino war is the removal of the horn. This is done humanely, by darting the animal and sawing the horn off while it sleeps. The rhino is unharmed. This has been one of the most effective actions taken, and remains the preferred method of protection by most rhino owners and reserves.
Unfortunately, even dehorning the rhino is not 100% effective, as many poachers will still kill the rhino out of vengeance, or to gouge out the last remaining portion of horn beneath the flesh of the rhino’s snout.
Educating SA population and especially the vulnerable rural communities
Rural communities located close to reserves and national parks are often the most vulnerable to the temptation of quick money promised to them by poaching syndicates, in exchange for rhino horn. Provided with weapons, saws and axes, these community members head out ill-informed about the far-reaching damage of their actions and the danger that they themselve may face along the way.
Many national parks, private reserves and lodges, like Magic Hills, form relationships with their nearby communities, focusing on providing education for the youth and helping them to understand the impact of rhino poaching on the environment and the local hospitality trade, and to inform them of the dangers of rhino poaching. This requires steady commitment to long-term educational programs and building trust, but over time it has proven successful in creating communities that both respect and protect wildlife in their region.
On-the-ground support for reserves and organizations
National parks and wildlife reserves that opt to home rhinos do so with the full knowledge of the risks associated with caring for these critically endangered mammals. Providing sufficient protection for rhino on reserves usually made up of many hectares of land is a high-cost challenge, with no chance for return on investment. Quite simply, it is a labour of love.
Protection comes in the form of adequate fencing, the means to patrol reserves by vehicle, and protective gear for rangers and troops on the ground – boots, protective vests, firearms and ammunition, as well as salaries and accommodation.
Over above these menial costs, larger scale projects like rhino darting, vet fees and running helicopters make some of the above-mentioned proactive measures very costly as, for many reserves, unaffordable.
Be part of the journey – Help save our rhino
At Magic Hills Game Reserve, we rely on the profits of running our hospitality establishments to fund our on-the-ground rhino protection efforts, as well as all of our other conservation endeavours. However, we need your help to carry these costs, especially after the impact that COVID-19 has had on the tourism industry. Most reserves are under the same pressure.
We encourage you to support your local reserves and conservation organisations. Every donation – big or small – helps to fight the rhino war. Find out more about our rhino conservation efforts here, or if you feel compelled to donate, you can make your contribution directly into the following account: