Now Zimbabwe is taking precautions by dehorning their rhinos to save them - before the poachers can do it, killing the highly endangered animals in the process.According to the AWARE Trust Zimbabwe, 100 of the 700 or so rhinos in Zimbabwe are currently living in Zimbabwe's national parks, with the rest being kept on private land.
The reason that rhino horn is extremely valuable is that it is believed to cure many diseases, from cancer to high blood pressure.There are also urban myths that it increases sex drive, although there is little to no scientific evidence to prove these beliefs.But many people believe it, and as long as there is a demand, poachers will be on the hunt for rhino horn, caring more about the money they can make than saving the rhino's life.
According to Lisa Marabini, director of the AWARE Trust Zimbabwe, the practice of dehorning has been going on for a few years already. It is not detrimental to the animal's wellbeing, as rhinos do not need their horns for protection - they have no predators other than humans. Marabini said:
We want to send a message to poachers that they will not get much if they come to Zimbabwe. The park's policy is to dehorn all the rhino.
A rhino's horn grows about 6cm per year in a young animal, and at a slower rate in an old animal. Thus dehorning is necessary once every two years, according to the AWARE Trust's Facebook page.The trust dehorned around 500 rhinos in Zimbabwe in 2010, and they believe that this has been vital to the decrease in poaching statistics in the last 5 years.
There are some groups, however, that have questioned the efficacy of the dehorning process. Save The Rhino has said that in some cases, rhinos are still killed even after being dehorned.This is because the stub of the horn is still valuable, or because poachers want vengeance for having their livelihood taken away.
There is also the problem of Zimbabwe's past in terms of dealing with endangered animals. The country stockpiles elephant ivory, instead of burning it as other countries do, and is trying to remove the ban on ivory trade set by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
Zimbabwe has also previously captured wild baby elephants and sold them to China, and tried to sell many of its endangered animals for the highest international price.The government cannot be trusted to stockpile the rhino horns they are cutting off; Marabini agrees that the horns should be burnt.Adam Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA, said:
Keeping the removed horns in a government stockpile in Zimbabwe is like leaving confiscated cocaine with a drug dealer; the corrupt Zimbabwean government will push to sell their stockpiles when the time is right, just as they have with elephant ivory in the past two decades.
It is yet to be seen whether or not Zimbabwe's dehorning process will result in a decrease of poaching and an increase in the fragile rhino population. But one thing is for sure: dehorning without taking stricter measures on poachers and protection of rhinos in reserves is not going to be very efficient.