Dude, where’s my horn?
In several parts of Africa and Asia, conservationists are tracking down and removing the horns of rhinos in order to prevent them from being poached. Unfortunately, in many parts of Asia, people believe that the horns have mystical powers from curing cancer to helping with hangovers. In reality, the rhino horn is simply keratin.
Like a giant cone-shaped fingernail.
Nevertheless, these giant fingernails sell for around $300,000, and poachers kill thousands of rhinos for them. In South Africa, known poaching deaths have risen sharply over these past three years, with 668 rhinos poached in 2012, 1,004 last year, and 889 through the first nine months of 2014. Rhino population numbers are dropping drastically. The most devastating fall is of the northern white rhino, a species with only 6 members left.
With pressures high on saving and preserving this magnificent creature, some conservationists are forced to make the hard decision of stripping the rhino of its horn. This video explains the process of dehorning a rhino.
As shown in the video, the team tracks the rhino in a helicopter, then shoots it with a tranquilizer dart. They approach and observe as the rhino slows down, wobbles a bit, and then falls over. The team then rushes around the rhino, places a blanket over its eyes, and begin to saw off the horn.
While dehorning is an effective method of protecting the rhinos, it is problematic. The rhino horns grow back, and so the rhinos must be dehorned every 12-24 months. Also, there is a level of danger to the rhinos every time one is dehorned. Everytime a rhino is sedated there is a slight chance that the rhino might have underlying health problems and the sedation could possibly be deadly.
Some other conservation efforts of rhinos include translocations, captive breeding, and habitat monitoring. These methods, including rhino dehorning, have a positive effect on the rhino population, however they do not attack the root of the problem. Protecting rhinos from poaching is a very complicated issue that requires tackling deep-rooted problems in many different areas, such as education, economics, and development. We need to educate people about rhino horns and conservation to reduce demand and encourage protection, and we must improve the economic state and the development of poor countries and towns, so that people are not driven to kill these creatures.
One example of education of rhino conservation is Singapore’s Zoo Nail Cutting Booth, which is designed to raise awareness about the negative effects of cutting a rhino’s horn. The image below shows preschool students who each brought clippings of their own fingernails, emphasizing the fact that rhino horns are no more special than our own fingernails.
Saving the rhino is a difficult task that involves a tangled web of many different problems in many different areas. However, knowledge is power, and the more we know about these beautiful creatures, the more we can save them.
Now for a series of adorable baby rhino photos!!!