5 ways to save the rhino


World rhino was celebrated on September 22. Rhinos are in serious danger due to continuous poaching. This year alone, almost 800 rhinos have been slaughtered for their horns in South Africa. Wits Vuvuzela  takes a look at some of the methods currently being used by various organisations to save the rhino from extinction. 


  1. Anti-poaching patrols

This is the most commonly used method of conservation. Rangers drive and walk around reserves policing fence lines and serving as the first line of defence for the rhino.

Robin Cook, MSc. Candidate in Ecology at the University of the Witwatersrand says the only challenge with this method is that there is a continuous stream of poachers entering the parks and so it feels as if it is a never ending battle that the anti-poaching rangers have to deal with.

Established in 1992, the Protrack Anti- Poaching unit was one of the first anti-poaching units in South Africa. Volunteers undergo an anti-poaching course that allows them to provide specialist rural security services to farms.


Anti-poaching ranger patrols reduce the levels of poaching and increase the chances of catching rhino poachers. Photo: SaveTheRhino

Anti-poaching ranger patrols reduce the levels of poaching and increase the chances of catching rhino poachers. Photo: SaveTheRhino


2) De-Horning Rhino

Rhino’s horns are removed to stop poachers from killing them for their horn. This method has been met with mixed responses.

Sceptics feel that this technique removes the animals’ main characterising feature and poachers still kill the animals even when they’ve been dehorned. According to Save the Rhino, this is often attributed to the stub of horn that is left after removal. If the horn is cut too close to the germinal layer, this could damage the horn base and lead to deformed horn re-growth. Although poaching is made less profitable by dehorning, poachers will still kill for a horn stub due to its high value.

Dr Joseph Okori of the WWF says the horns usually grow back at about 3-4 inches every year, which means there is regrowth every 3-4 years, which means dehorning again and again.

While there have been success stories in both Namibia and South Africa. From 1989, Namibia started dehorning rhino to protect them from poachers. This project was successful as none of the dehorned rhino were poached. In Mpumalanga, South Africa, (excluding Kruger NP) out of the 33 rhinos killed from 2009-11, only one was a dehorned rhino.


DEHORNED: There are pro's and cons to dehorning rhino's. Photo: Brent Stirton

DEHORNED: There are pro’s and cons to dehorning rhino’s. Photo: Brent Stirton


3) Treating rhino horn

With this method the rhino horn is treated with a visible pink dye that is meant to deter poachers.

Cook explains that a compound made up of ectoparasiticides and indelible dye that contaminates the horn and renders it useless for ornamental or medicinal use is injected into the horn. The dye can also be detected by airport scanners, even when the horn has been grounded into a powder.

However, research by the SANParks shows that the poison may not infiltrate into the entire horn, and therefore the horn may still be usable in the market. Also human ethical and legal risks are involved when it comes to treating the horn while consequences on the welfare and health of the animal remains uncertain with this method.



RHINO DYE: Horns are treated with chemicals to make render them valueless. Photo: Provided.

RHINO DYE: Horns are treated with chemicals to make render them valueless. Photo: Provided.


4) High tech and Innovative Systems

Technology has is also being used in efforts to save the rhino. Drones, high tech fencing and various other gadgets are helping to beef up security for the animals.

Cook says, “It provides conservation management with a new tool for anti poaching as drones can see far more than what humans on foot can.”

Helicopters and sniffer dogs are included in the technologically advanced methods of conservation. Although these gadets are are quite expensive . In 2014, SANParks had received an initial grant funding of R254.8 million to establish air mobility capacity and purchase a helicopter in the Kruger National Park. This year they received a second helicopter to assist in the anti poaching effort.


A mahout walks past with an elephant used for tourist rides as a World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) official carries an unmanned aircraft or drone before flying them at the Kaziranga National Park at Kaziranga in Assam state, India, Monday, April 8, 2013.Wildlife authorities used drones on Monday for aerial surveillance of the sprawling natural game park in northeastern India to protect the one-horned rhinoceros from armed poachers. The drones will be flown at regular intervals to prevent rampant poaching in the park located in the remote Indian state of Assam. The drones are equipped with cameras and will be monitored by security guards, who find it difficult to guard the whole 480-square kilometer (185-square mile) reserve. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)

EYE IN THE SKY: Drones have been successfully used in other parts of the world for conservation efforts.The Kaziranga National Park at Kaziranga in Assam state, India, has been deploying this technology since 2013. The drones have cameras onboard they are faster and have a greater range than ground patrols. Photo: Anupam Nath


5) Rhino trophy hunting

Due to the high expenses incurred in rhino conservation efforts, rhino hunting is used as a method to pay for the care of other rhinos. One rhino must die for others to live.

“It is a touchy subject, as many people are anti-hunting, especially when it is a rhino considering just how many are being poached.” Says Cook.

This method has the potential to ensure that reserves with an abundance of rhino can secure funds to back conservation efforts.


TROPHY OF DEATH: Rhino conservation is expensive and wealthy hunters are willing to fit the bill. Photo: Provided

TROPHY OF DEATH: Rhino conservation is expensive and wealthy hunters are willing to fit the bill. Photo: Provided

“We believe that there is no single solution to the poaching crisis in and a range of related activities are needed right along the illegal trade chain.” Says Mxhalisa.

The WWF has developed a National Rhino Programme which focuses its efforts on boosting rhino numbers, benefiting communities around rhino reserves, breaking illegal trade networks, building bridges and working together across borders and bursting the bubble of demand in Asia.


Students can prevent poaching crisis

Wits students who care about the country’s rhino poaching crisis can contribute in a number of ways.

“There are some student organisations that address these kinds of issues. For instance, Roots and Shoots and the BioSoc,” Prof Kevin Balkwill, Head of the Department of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, said

“This is one way for students to become involved. Otherwise, there are more formal initiatives around Wits Rural Facility and Pullen Farm, two of Wits’ rural properties where students can become involved in conservation issues.”

The situation for the country’s rhinos is grave. A total of 52 rhinos have been dehorned since in South Africa’s game reserves, since the beginning of 2012, Wanda Mkutshulwa, Head of Communications at SANParks, revealed in a statement on February 3.

Two more rhino carcasses were found by tourists in the Kruger National Park on Tuesday, according to a statement released by Mr William Mabasa, Head of Public Relations and Communications at the Kruger National Park. The poachers are still at large.

Balkwill said many projects at Wits had conservation goals or applications. One way to make a difference was through postgraduate study.

A Wits honours student was due to contribute to the development of an Integrated Management Plan for the establishment of the Bushbuckridge Nature Reserve.

He also suggested that the Wits Volunteer Programme could be broadened to encompass environmental and conservation issues.

Dr Jo Shaw, a Wits PhD graduate, now working at Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring network, suggested students interested in participating in conservation could start by raising funds.

“There are 150 organisations actively involved in ‘saving rhinos’ in South Africa now.”

“If you want to get involved, go for one of the larger organisations with a scientific advisory board who ensure that your money is well spent.

“As of the last estimates at December 31, 2010, there were 18 796 white rhinos and 1 916 black rhinos in South Africa,” she said,

“At current poaching rates, rhino populations in South Africa are anticipated to begin to decline in 2015 or 2016.”

The number of rhino deaths have been on the increase as early as 2006. As many as 448 rhinos were shot in 2011.