Zimbabwe is Dehorning its Rhinos to Curb Poaching

August 31, 2016 | Erica Tennenhouse

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"We want to send a message to poachers that they will not get much if they come to Zimbabwe.” - Lisa Marabini, Aware Trust Zimbabwe

An adult rhinoceros has virtually no predators in the wild — aside from humans.

In an effort to discourage poaching, wildlife authorities in Zimbabwe plan to dehorn all rhinos in the country’s state game parks, Reuters reports.

Demand for rhino horn is primarily driven by the Asian traditional medicine market, especially in Vietnam, where the horns are widely believed to cure cancer.

Just last year, 50 rhinos in Zimbabwe were killed illegally, bringing the country’s current population to fewer than 800 animals.

RELATED: Moratorium on Rhino Horn Trade Lifted Just as Poaching Levels Fall in South Africa

"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," said Lisa Marabini, director of operations with Aware Trust Zimbabwe, one of the organizations helping the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority remove horns of the 100 rhinos currently in state game parks.

Unlike the bony horns of goats and antelope, rhino horns are made of keratin, much like human hair and nails. But removing the horn still requires that the animal be sedated. The procedure costs around $1,200 per rhino, and horn re-growth requires that the procedure be repeated every two years or so.

This is not the first instance of rhino dehorning being used as a conservation measure. According to the UK-based charity Save the Rhino International, Namibia did it first in the late 1980s, and rhino dehorning in recent years in Zimbabwe and South Africa has substantially reduced poaching losses.

However, Save the Rhino International notes on its website that dehorning “must be coupled with extensive anti-poaching security and monitoring efforts,” as poachers will continue to target hornless rhinos to retrieve the stub left over after horn removal.

Reuters reports that international trade in rhino horn was banned in 1977, and rhino killing in Zimbabwe carries a mandatory nine-year prison sentence.

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