Black Bean Production Collaboration

Empowers Africa is proud of our first collaborative project with Black Bean Productions which covers the practice of rhino dehorning as a way to combat the poaching crisis in Africa. Our team had the privilege of accompanying Wildlands, wildlife veterinarian Mike Toft of Kifaru Wildlife Veterinary Services and Wildlife ACT – Volunteer in Africa on a rhino-dehorning exercise. Oli Caldow and Sam Suter of Black Bean Productions joined us to capture this medical procedure.
In the past, South Africa was home to thousands of rhinos. However, they began plummeting towards extinction due to illegal poaching in the 1980s attributed to the widespread belief of rhino horn curing and healing a wide array of ailments. Though the theory has been debunked since rhino horn is purely keratin, the market for horn continues to thrive, and thousands are killed every year. Worth more than its weight in gold on the black market, poaching numbers are spiraling out control and rhinos are battling imminent extinction.
Considering the horn is what syndicates and poachers are after, de-horning is obviously a deterrent to poaching. Unfortunately, there have been numerous cases of rhinos being poached a few years after being de-horned once their horn has begun to grow back. With the current severe poaching threat, experts recommend that rhinos should ideally be de-horned every 12-24 months in order for the procedure to be an effective deterrent. De-horning alone, however, is not enough. Extensive monitoring and anti-poaching activity must be utilized to complement the de-horning, making poachers less likely to risk their lives for less profitable horn stubs. Previously, only the tip of the rhino’s horn was removed during the de-horning process, as people assumed the market preferred an entire rhino horn and aesthetics mattered. Eventually, conservation communities realized that rhino horn is often sold as a powder substance, making tip removal obsolete. The de-horning process causes no pain to the rhinos, considering the horn does not contain any nerves or blood vessels. De-horning has certainly proved successful. In Mpumalanga, South Africa, over one-third of all the reserves’ rhinos (excluding Kruger National Park) have been de-horned. Out of the 33 rhinos killed between 2009 and 2011, only one was a de-horned rhino.
When we characterize a rhino, some might think of its gargantuan stature, its immense power, or the fact that it is one of the few remaining links to our prehistoric past. Many, however, think of its majestic, unique horn. An important consideration that arises around the de-horning conversation is whether or not the rhino needs its horn. Research suggests the horn is utilized in territorial defense, calf protection, foraging, and digging for water, amongst other behavioral tendencies. Despite these uses of their horn, rhinos need to survive, and de-horning is undoubtedly an effective part of the conservation equation. Although it looks like an intrusive process, the rhino experiences very little to no pain or irritation during the process. After the filming of this documentary, everyone present and involved agreed that they felt the rhino was safer and more protected than beforehand. Furthermore, aside from not having a valuable horn on their faces, the rhinos were fitted with tracking devices to enable various conservation teams to track and monitor their movements. Therefore, should the rhino suffer from the procedure, his position can be followed-up on.
The decision to de-horn these rhino was not an easy call to make, and not something anyone wants to do. In conclusion, de-horning can most definitely aid in the fight against poaching however it is important to take each scenario and location into consideration. It is also key to remember it is not a solution but just one component of so many others that must work together to deter poaching. Because it is so costly, the procedure is only feasible in areas where it is affordable to de-horn all of the rhinos, so that the de-horned ones are not at a huge disadvantage. Currently, due to the desperate situation rhinos have found themselves in de-horning has become a necessary measure in some regions.