Operation: Stop Poaching Now
We’re counting down and almost to number 1. We’re sharing 10 Ways to Fight Rhino Poaching — detailing diverse solutions you can support to address the poaching crisis.
8. Poaching Deterrents
Desperate times have steered conservationists toward new (and sometimes desperate) methods to deter poachers and rhino horn consumers.
One method being practiced by a few rhino holders is injecting poison or other toxic substances into a living rhino’s horn. The idea is that if the animal is poached and its horns enter the black market, anyone consuming them would be become sick (or even die). Aside from issues of ethics, at first blush this sounds like a good idea. There are a handful of projects, such as the Rhino Rescue Project, that are injecting rhinos’ horns with drugs that are used to control ticks and other external parasites. According to the Project’s website, these agents are not lethal to humans in small quantities; ingestion may cause nausea, vomiting and/or convulsions.
Another anti-poaching tactic, tried in a number of reserves and parks, is to inject colored dye into a hole drilled in the horn, which is subsequently sealed. This method is intended to distribute the dye throughout the horn, which if confiscated, would call attention to its illegal origin. Most of the reserves and parks using dye infusion have well-placed signage warning would-be poachers that their rhinos’ horns have been treated.
De-horning is a short-term poaching deterrent, used in a variety of African countries since the late 1980s. The procedure does not affect an animal’s reproductive viability or its ability to protect itself, which many parties raise as a concern. However, de-horning only works if it is combined with effective security. One of the most successful examples has been in Zimbabwe, where de-horning has been coupled with translocating rhinos from threatened to more secure areas. Data from IRF’s partner, the Lowveld Rhino Trust, show that rhinos that have been de-horned in Zimbabwe’s Save Valley and Bubye Valley Conservancies have had a greater chance of survival than animals with horns.
But what really works?
Sabi Sands, a prominent private game reserve adjacent to South Africa’s Kruger National Park, widely advertised that they had injected parasiticide and indelible pink dye into their rhinos’ horns. Poaching of that population, however, did not stop. In fact, we are sad to report that the Sabi Sands CEO and her husband, a prominent game ranger, were savagely attacked by knife-wielding home-invaders last week, purported to have been searching for horn. We must remind ourselves that rhino poachers are ruthless. They do not hesitate to harm or kill anyone who stands in their way. Would they care whether they are taking a poisoned horn? Would they admit to a seller that the product being sold is tainted? Probably not.
In Asia, rhino horn consumption continues to skyrocket. Have consumers stopped using horn because of the risk of illness or the detection of illegal horn? Rhino poaching numbers now stand at more than 738 animals lost this year from South Africa alone. This does not suggest that consumption has decreased because of these threats.
The only study, to our knowledge, that examines whether poisoning or dyeing rhino horn is effective was recently conducted by leading scientific and veterinary experts: Drs. Sam Ferreira and Danie Pienaar of SANParks Scientific Services; Dr. Markus Hofmeyer of SANParks Veterinary Wildlife Services; and Dr. Dave Cooper of Ezemvelo Wildlife Services. The controversial paper, “Are chemical horn infusions a poaching deterrent or an unnecessary deception?” will be available through the journal Pachyderm soon. The paper demonstrates that infused substances do not permeate through the horn but stay at the injection site, rendering horn infusion with either dye or poison insufficient as a stand-alone poaching or consumer deterrent.
One of the paper’s co-authors Sam Ferreira notes that promoting these methods could build a false sense of security for rhino managers. ”Relying on publicity to deter poachers also relies on convincing managers that the chemical treatment of horns through infusion will secure rhinos,” said Ferreira. “Poachers will benefit and managers will lose when the bluff of horn treatments fails.”
In 2011, South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs and the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) convened rhino experts to produce a report, “A Study on the Dehorning of African Rhinoceroses as a Tool to Reduce the Risk of Poaching.” The report attempts to objectively outline benefits, problems and research needs, concluding with recommendations regarding de-horning. Unfortunately, unless paired with strident on-the-ground protection, de-horning does not dissuade determined poachers. The report concludes that a great deal more work is needed before de-horning can be viewed as the solution to the rhino poaching crisis
So what do we do?
We know you join us in our desperation to stop the killing. Given the International Rhino Foundation’s need to invest our limited resources where they have the greatest chance of contributing to success, we don’t support the use of poison or dye as a deterrent at this time. We do, however, support the use of de-horning, in combination with strong protection, as a short-term poaching deterrent. Selective de-horning is a part of regular rhino management operations in Zimbabwe’s Lowveld as well in other areas which IRF supports
We need to stem the tide of rhino poaching using combinations of methods — some new, some tried-and-true — as we have described in this Operation: STOP POACHING NOW series. No one method is sufficient on its own, but in combination, they will help stop the onslaught.
Please help Operation: STOP POACHING NOW. We don’t have a minute to lose. Every gift, large or small, helps. Every gift allows us do more.