The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Will Rhino Dehorning Stop Poaching?

analysis

The rhinos currently being moved to Borana Wildlife Conservancy from Lake Nakuru National Park and Lewa Conservancy are dehorned in a bid to reduce poaching.

The horns, which researchers say comprise calcium, melanin and keratin similarly structured to horse hooves, turtle beaks and cockatoo bills, often grow when trimmed.

Rhino horn is in high demand in Asia and he Middle East because of its alleged remedy against a number of non-life threatening ailments including aggressive cancer. it is also coveted for its ornamental and aphrodisiac use.

Elodie Sampere, the public relations and marketing manager for the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, said the rhinos are being dehorned for safe transportation and to prevent poaching. "This will deter poachers for a while, at least until the horn grows back," she said in response to queries why the rhinos are being transported without their horns. "If the poachers know that the rhinos are dehorned, they are less likely to go after them."

KWS National Rhino Programmes co-ordinator Ben Okita said Lake Nakuru National Park had reached its maximum capacity thus the need to establish a new population at the Borana sanctuary.

The exercise which started on Monday targets 10 black rhinos to be moved from Lake Nakuru by Sunday while 11 will be moved from Lewa Conservancy.

Lake Nakuru National Park Warden Adan Kala said they had clipped the tip of the horns for identity purposes.

"We clipped only a small portion of the horn... five centimetres to be precise," he said on the phone from his Nakuru office. "We are also doing so to avoid injuries during the transportation."

Namibia was the first country in Africa to use dehorning to protect rhinos from poaching. Between 1989 and the early 1990s, dehorning coupled with rapid improvements in security and funding for anti-poaching was perceived by stakeholders to have contributed significantly to reducing poaching losses.

However, there are numerous cases where dehorning has proved insufficient to prevent rhinos from falling victim to poachers. For example, in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, during the early 1990s, the majority of dehorned rhinos were killed just 12-18 months after being dehorned.

In Zimbabwe's Save Valley Conservancy, six newly dehorned rhinos were poached during January-August 2011 (one rhino was killed within 24 hours and another within five days of being dehorned).

In South Africa, dehorned rhinos were still butchered. According to latest poaching figures released by the National Environment department in May, at least 350 rhinos have been killed in South Africa this year - 242 in the Kruger National Park.

"This has not been successful in South Africa," said KWS Spokesman Paul Mbugua. "The issue (dehorning) needs some serious thinking... at KWS we don't dehorn. Poachers will still go for the stump."

Paula Kahumbu, the Wildlifedirect chief executive officer, is against dehorning of rhinos. "Apart from causing suffering to the rhino and putting it at risk - of every 20 darted one is likely to die - dehorning did not work in Namibia as you cannot remove the whole horn," she said. "The stump is deep inside the tissue and even the stump is still worth killing for. And what do you do with the dehorned tips?"

Kala said the tips of the five rhinos dehorned so far at Lake Nakuru National Park are under lock and key at their armoury. "We will take them to our headquarters once the exercise is over," he said.

According to Kahumbu, rhinos have horns for a reason - they use them in fighting and foraging. "We are diverting attention from the real issue which is the misguided belief that rhino horn is a medicine. We need a crackdown on poachers, dealers and consumers," she said.

Sampere said the horns are the property of the Kenya Wildlife Service and will be handed over to them immediately. "So far eight rhinos have been moved and the eight rhinos were dehorned. Every single rhino that ends up in Borana Wildlife Conservancy will be dehorned."

Mbugua said KWS has not received any horn removed from the eight rhinos.KWS says it has lost 37 rhinos this year. The total rhino population in Kenya stands at 1,025.

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