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Hundreds of North West rhinos dehorned in secret operation (South Africa)

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Paul Ash, Times Live | May 28, 2020

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Hundreds of rhinos living in game reserves in North West have been quietly dehorned to protect them from poachers.

The mammoth and highly secret operation was carried out in Pilanesberg National Park over the past nine days by North West Parks officials assisted by wildlife vets, volunteers and anti-poaching organisation Rhino 911.

“It has never been done before in a reserve as big as this in the time that we did it,” said Rhino 911 chief pilot Nico Jacobs. “It was hugely satisfying.”

With its roads and mountains, and surrounded by struggling communities, the park is difficult to protect from incursions by poachers.

It has never been done before in a reserve as big as this in the time that we did it.

But now that the country’s game reserves are closed for lockdown, NW Parks decided the time was right to carry out the project, which involved tracking the animals and darting them before removing their horns.

“Obviously there are no people around now,” said Jacobs.

Even though the lockdown has also made it difficult for poachers to operate, Jacobs and his team found the carcass of a rhino cow butchered just days before the project began.

Tracking the rhinos required two helicopters and teams of people on the ground.

“It was the most efficient operation I’ve ever seen,” said Lynne MacTavish, a game reserve owner who volunteered to help out on the project. “We could just concentrate on [finding] the rhinos.”

While dehorning often attracts criticism from animal rights activists, Jacobs says the procedure gives the animals a much greater chance of survival.

“This is my 16th year of doing this,” he said. “We’ve tried everything. We owe it to the animals to try every method to make a difference.”

The horn grows back by about 10cm a year.

For security reasons officials would not give the exact number of rhinos dehorned. There was no indication that dehorned rhinos were more stressed than horned rhinos.

Dr Samuel Penny of Brighton University’s school of pharmacy and biomolecular science said his recent doctoral research had shown that dehorning rhinos did not affect their physiology or behaviour.

“There were no real changes in behaviour in how the rhinos were acting [after dehorning],” he said.

While doing research in SA Penny also examined dehorned rhinos for stress responses by measuring corticoids.

“We looked at changes over time. There was no indication that dehorned rhinos were more stressed than horned rhinos.”

Rhino horn is mostly made up of keratin, the protein found in human hair and nails. It is widely prized in traditional Chinese medicine as a cure for fever.

Owing to its high price in recent years it has also gained favour in countries like Vietnam as a “status cure” for various ailments. With rhino horn currently trading on illegal markets for about $67,000/kg (about R1,2m), dehorning the animals may be their last chance of survival.

“There is literally no other option,” said Jacobs. “I’d rather see a rhino without a horn than a dead rhino.”

Horn trimming of rhinos in Pilanesberg Nature Reserve (South Africa)

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Media statement from North West Parks Board

Pilanesberg Nature Reserve boast a very important white rhino population, and it is certainly one of the important white rhino populations in South Africa, and even the world. Both white and black rhinos have shown to be adapting extremely well in the reserve and excess animals from this populations have been used to establish new populations across South Africa, and in Botswana.

The rhino population in Pilanesberg Nature Reserve has been plagued by poaching for at least the past 7years. Over this period, the reserve has lost more than 120 rhinos due to poaching. This obviously has had a deteriorating impact on the population, and it is showing a steady decline over the past few years. The current situation has prompted North West Parks Board to take drastic measure of intervention to save the species.

The North-West Parks Board decided to trim the horns of all rhinos in the reserve with the help of a veterinary services experts who arrived in Pilanesberg on the 12th May 2020. The team worked through the park trimming horns of all black and white rhinos, males, and females, and calves they found in the parks. Including treating old gunshot wounds and injuries of other animals.

Over the years, the procedure of trimming the horns of rhinos has been developed into a detailed protocol with almost no risk to the animal. It has been proven that the risk of loss of an animal, as well as injuries or improper removal of the horn is eliminated when it is conducted by a qualified and experienced veterinarian.

The animal is located, darted and immobilized by a veterinarian from a helicopter. When the animal is down, it is located by the ground team in the shortest possible time, the eyes and ears are immediately covered, and condition immediately monitored. The cutline on the horns are marked, and the horns are cut very close to the base with an electric wood saw.

The stump is then rounded with an angle grinder to remove all excess horn. The whole operation takes less than 15 minutes per animal, followed by the team withdrawing from the animal, the animal woken by the veterinarian and stroll off, slightly disorientated, but completely healthy and strong without any injuries or fatalities.

“Although we prefer rhinos to have their horns and be able to roam around safely without any threat, the horn trimming operation was necessary to relieve the pressure of poaching of the rhino population to allow it to recover to the levels it was prior to the escalation of poaching in the reserve” said the Pieter Nel, the Chief Conservation Officer.

Strategically, from a security perspective, Pilanesberg has a few severe challenges. However, the size of the reserve, the mountainous terrain, the size of management blocks, provincial roads surrounding, etc. all makes this reserve a target for poachers. The motivation behind the operation was to ensure the “reward to poachers is reduced” and “the risks to the poacher are increased”. This was also a key finding in a study commissioned by the National Department of Environmental Affairs on the effectiveness of horn trimming as a deterrent to poaching. The Board is in the process of increasing its security efforts in Pilanesberg and other reserves significantly.

There are fears that horn trimming may have an impact on the behavior of the animals, specifically in terms of defending territories and exerting dominance over other inferior bulls. However, data from the Zimbabwe Lowveld Conservancies shows that trimmed rhinos are as likely to retain territories as horned individuals. It needs to be acknowledged that a rhino’s horn is its primary defense mechanism. The bulls use it to defend its territory and dominance, and cows to defend their calves from predators and other bulls. For this reason, all animals in a population need to be trimmed in the shortest possible time to prevent horned individuals of displacing or injuring trimmed animals. However, possible ecological or behavioral problems associated with horn trimming can be justified against the imperative of keeping the rhinos alive.

It is estimated that the total cost of this operation is valued at approximately R2million due to horn trimming being a costly operation. The cost includes veterinary costs, helicopter flying time, as well as veterinary supplies. However, this operation was made possible by sponsorships from Rhino 911, Rhino Pride Foundation, Pilanesberg Wildlife Trust and Copenhagen Zoo who are all registered as non- profit organizations. The Board received additional assistance from Zodiac Dierekliniek, the pilots and ground crew who unselfishly made available their professional time and equipment at no cost to the project who worked hand in glove with the Park staff who supported the operation and whose dedication is acknowledged with pride.

Four caught in possession of a rhino horn and protected plants (South Africa)

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Ntwaagae Seleka, News24 | May 17, 2020

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Four men are expected to appear in court on Tuesday after they were caught in possession of protected flora and a rhino horn.

The four – aged 23, 30, 36 and 46 – were arrested on Saturday in Citrusdal in the Western Cape.

Police spokesperson Colonel Andrè Traut said the arrests were carried out by the Malmesbury Stock Theft Unit, Vredendal Crime Intelligence and members of the Cape Nature Reserve.

“In our pursuit to ensure that offenders of the law are brought to book, our members conducted a clandestine operation yesterday (Saturday) in Citrusdal, which led to the arrest of four men.

“They were apprehended in possession of a variety of protected flora and a rhino horn. The value of the confiscated items is yet to be determined.

“The suspects are due to face charges of dealing in protected flora and the possession of rhino horn in the Citrusdal Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday,” said Traut.

A rhino’s best friend: Dogs are trained to hunt poachers in Africa

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Jane Flanagan, The Times | May 16, 2020

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From beagles to bloodhounds, man’s best friend is being drafted in to help to save the lives of dozens of rhinos in South Africa’s battle against poaching.

Although dogs have long been used for security in Kruger National Park, which is roughly the size of Wales, the poaching crisis has given them a new role. Each animal in the reserve’s K9 fast response unit has been trained from birth in a task best suited to the strengths of its breed.

Foxhounds and beagles are naturally equipped to track poachers, detect weapons and find poached horns. Belgian Malinois, agile dogs similar to German shepherds, are also adept at “bite work” and detaining intruders.

“All these dogs can track, it’s in their genes, and now they are imprinted on human scent like narcotics dogs are on drugs,” said Johan van Straaten, from the Southern African Wildlife College where the dogs are trained from puppies.

He described the use of free tracking dogs — which are off the lead — as “a game-changer”. Such dogs are often deployed in packs and can run poachers to ground far faster than people, with handlers following in helicopters. Staff at Kruger estimate that K9 patrols are achieving a success rate of nearly 70 per cent compared with 5 per cent by units without a canine capacity.

Depending on the breed, a dog’s sense of smell is estimated to be between 1,000 and 10,000,000 times better than humans’ and they can hear four times further. Dogs arrive at the college as very young puppies and begin training immediately. Breeds used include Texan black-and-tan coonhounds, Belgian Malinois, foxhounds and blueticks which are drilled in free tracking, incursion, detection, patrol and apprehension. The animals are usually only deployed to the field at the age of 18 months.

South Africa is home to about 80 per cent of the world’s last remaining rhinos and has lost more than 8,000 to poachers between 2008 and 2018. Kruger and its adjoining private parks have become the epicentre of the crisis and account for more than half of the country’s lost rhinos.

The park’s anti-poaching force is now the most sophisticated in Africa — but comes at a cost of £11 million a year.

Still, the investment is having a positive effect: in 2019, 564 rhinos were killed for their horns in South Africa, down from 769 in 2018 and fewer than half the number slaughtered in 2014.

Where once rangers were conservationists, their role has become increasingly military. More than 1,000 rangers have been killed around the world in the past decade in the effort to protect animals from the demand for tusks and horns. The trade in illegal wildlife is estimated to be worth approximately £16 billion a year, with the demand driven mostly by Asia — where imported animal products are prized as status symbols and as supposed remedies.

Conservation must not be a COVID victim

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John Scanlon, for The Independent | May 13, 2020

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Several hundred miles north of a dwindling Ebola outbreak, rangers at Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are most concerned with how the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to play out around the world.

Up until this year, Ebola was perhaps the scariest disease on the planet. Arising at times when human activity expands into and damages the West and Central African rainforests, the disease set off a global panic in 2014 when seven cases appeared outside the African continent. But in 2020, COVID-19 is now the scariest, with its impacts slamming all facets of the global economy.

With so many funding sources decimated, everyone expects a precipitous drop in conservation efforts this year. In Garamba, the fear that poachers will take advantage of the situation is almost palpable. But more than just Garamba’s endangered wildlife hangs in the balance.

The world has entered a crisis of extinction, with almost all of its biodiversity under some kind of threat. In 2019, a report released by scientists from 134 UN member states found that the planet’s natural ecosystems have declined by an average of 47%. Approximately one million plant and animal species were found to be threatened with extinction.

The report emphasised that conserving the world’s most intact ecosystems has to be a global priority, a finding echoed by a report released at the start of 2020 by the World Economic Forum (WEF). The WEF report noted that the severe decline in biodiversity threatened food security, public health, and commerce around the world, and could magnify the worst impacts of climate change.

In that light, Garamba provides a success story for low and middle-income countries that have limited capacity to invest in nature conservation. Grants from donor countries and philanthropists have funded the park enforcement and community engagement, which in turn has curtailed poaching.

Elephant poaching alone has dropped by more than 90% in the past four years, and, concurrently, studies show that elephant populations are now recovering. The number of critically endangered Kordofan Giraffes in the park has stabilised and even started to increase again as the park prepares to explore the viability of tourism and additional revenue generating activities.

The giraffes and elephants and other charismatic large animals are obvious benchmarks for success, but Garamba’s story extends beyond their recovery. The park has succeeded because of the partnerships built with the local communities, who have lived in and managed this area for generations. Out of the park’s 523 employees, 95% are DRC nationals with 74% coming from the local province of Haut-Uele.

Garamba supports two local schools and its mobile health clinics and hospital served nearly 25,000 community members in 2019. Additionally, water sources for 24 villages have been constructed or rehabilitated, bringing clean water to more than 7,000 people.

Keeping this economic development in mind, one can easily make the point that these investments help countries meet many of the commitments made in UN conventions and agreed global goals—from sustainable development and public health to biodiversity conservation and climate change.

While international tourism revenues for 2020 are fast disappearing, it remains imperative for business, donors and governments to continue to invest in conservation, not only for its own sake, but to help avert the next pandemic, mitigate climate change and retain tourism appeal.

We need to be creative in achieving this goal by tapping business, national governments and donor budgets. As the benefits of effective nature conservation extend well beyond wildlife populations and attractive scenery—including health, development and security benefits—so too must the sources of financing. It would take a fraction of the program budgets in these other fields to deliver on nature conservation.

When they do, we can keep more natural places intact and allow endangered ecosystems to recover. Research finds that such efforts are successful; an analysis of conservation spending between 1992 and 2003—a total of $14.4 billion spent by 109 countries—cut the rate of biodiversity decline in each country by an average of 29%.

These successes have been noticed and embraced by a growing number of nations. Rwanda, for example, has grown its tourism industry by investing in conservation. One quarter of almost $10 million invested last year was to support Volcanoes National Park—one of the few places in the world where mountain gorillas can be found. As a result, tourists coming to see these primates have generated $19.2 million of revenue in 2019 alone, along with many decent local jobs.

While this revenue stream will not hold steady in 2020, the gorilla population can continue its recovery after decades of decline only if the protected areas are maintained and if conservation programmes can continue to be adequately funded during and after this pandemic. This will require a collective effort of business, government and donors; the tourists and the jobs will not return if the gorillas disappear.

The same reasoning motivates the rangers at Garamba to redouble efforts amidst warning signs of a surge in wildlife poaching.  Gains have been made but they are fragile. If enforcement programmes cannot remain vigilant and lose the engagement and support of local communities, the modest recovery of the Kordofan Giraffe can be swiftly reversed.

The impacts of the 2014-16 outbreak of Ebola were terrible and the current COVID-19 pandemic has caused incalculable social and economic distress, but the next disease to emerge from damaged nature could be even worse.

Nature conservation has never been more important and we cannot risk it becoming another victim of COVID-19—it must become an investment priority of business, donors and government. If not, I fear we may find ourselves back in the same bleak place in the not too distant future.

John E Scanlon was Secretary General of CITES from 2010-2018 and is now the Special Envoy of African Parks


Take all measures to prevent poaching of animals in Kaziranga: Sonowal (State of Assam, India)

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The Shillong Times | May 14, 2020

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GUWAHATI: Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has directed the administration of five districts adjoining the Kaziranga National Park to ensure protection of wildlife from poaching and provide the animals adequate relief during flood.

Considering the setback faced by the tourism sector during the coronavirus-induced nationwide lockdown, Sonowal also asked the officials to prepare a plan to rejuvenate tourism at the Kaziranga National Park, declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The chief minister said this while reviewing preparation of Golaghat, Nagaon, Sonitpur, Biswanath and Karbi Anglong districts on wildlife protection during the forthcoming monsoon season in a meeting, held at Kaziranga in Golaghat district, on Tuesday.

To strengthen anti-poaching drive at the park famed for one-horned rhinoceros, the chief minister asked the district administration and the forest department to engage village headmen, tea garden sardars and people with strong grassroots connection living in the adjoining areas in the wildlife protection endeavours.

Mentioning that Kaziranga National Park (KNP) has global importance, Sonowal said that any untoward incident that takes place in the park draws attention of the people worldwide.

Noting that the Assam governments strong measures have led to considerable drop in the number of poaching at the park, Sonowal said fast track courts set up by Gauhati High Court as per the state governments request have so far convicted several poachers and handed them exemplary punishment. He observed that steps of this kind have instilled fear in the mind of poachers and left positive impact on wildlife protection.

He also stressed on the need to make the wildlife protection measures of the forest department more visible and directed the department to fill up all vacancies.

The forest department was further directed to carry out a survey to assess the impact of the highlands developed inside the park on the wildlife and its use by the animals during flood.

He also asked the park authorities to be prepared with adequate food stock so that it could be provided to the animals during flood.

In view of African swine fever infection reported in different parts of the state, the chief minister urged officials of the five districts to ensure that intermingling of domestic and wild pigs does not take place.

Due to African swine fever, movement of domestic pigs are restricted to stop the infection from spreading.

Africa’s endangered wildlife at risk as tourism dries up

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Associated Press/New York Times | May 15, 2020

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NANYUKI, KENYA: The armed rangers set off at dusk in pursuit of poachers. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a new alertness, and a new fear.

With tourists gone and their money, too, protecting endangered wildlife like black rhinos has become that much more challenging. And the poachers, like many desperate to make a living, might become more daring.

Rhinos have long been under threat from poachers who kill them for their horns to supply illegal trade fueled by the mistaken belief that the horns have medicinal value.

Now there are concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic may increase such poaching, said John Tekeles, a patrol guide and head of the dog unit at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

“We are more alert because maybe more poachers will use this time to come in to poach,” Tekeles said.

The number of black rhinos in Africa has been slowly increasing though the species remains “critically endangered,” according to a report in March by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN. It credits, in part, effective law enforcement.

Ol Pejeta is home to more than 130 black rhinos, the single largest population in East and Central Africa, said Richard Vigne, the conservancy’s managing director.

Protecting them is expensive. Ol Pejeta spends about $10,000 per year per rhino on that protection, Vigne said.

“In our case that comes to close to $2 million a year,” he said. “In the time of COVID, when tourism has completely stopped, where most of our revenue comes from tourism, the revenue we need to earn to protect the rhino comes from tourism, it’s a complete disaster.”

The conservancy expects to see $3 million to $4 million in lost revenue this year. Therefore, Vigne said, “our ability to look after the rhinos is compromised.”

Conservationists across Africa are now monitoring to see how poachers might try to take advantage, and whether more rare wildlife will be killed.

Africa’s various rhino species had been seeing a downward trend in poaching, according to the IUCN, with 892 poached in 2018, a drop from a peak of 1,349 in 2015.

And the population of black rhinos had been growing by an annual rate of 2.5% between 2012 and 2018 to more than 5,600.

That growth was projected to continue over the next five years, the IUCN has said.

‘We need to tackle this illegal trade to prevent further pandemics’: Poachers are exploiting a lack of tourism by targeting wildlife in empty reserves

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Padraic Flanagan, i News | May 15, 2020

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Park rangers charged with protecting the world’s endangered animals are defying the global health crisis to brave the frontline in the relentless war against poachers.

In protected areas and sanctuaries around the world, patrols regularly encounter evidence of illegal crime gangs preying on rhinoceroses, big cats and endangered birdlife.

Even before the pandemic, the rangers averaged a 72-hour work week. Now the demands – and the danger – are even higher, as the collapse of the tourism industry has emptied national parks of holidaymakers and removed a key deterrent for the criminal gangs.

The Wildlife Conservation Society warned last month that “we’re already seeing a spike in poaching” in response to the coronavirus crisis.

Endangered by Covid-19

Recent incidents around the world have underlined why many park rangers have been classed as essential workers during the global lockdown.

In South Africa, rangers have had to respond to reports of a rhinoceros poaching incident nearly every day since the country announced a national lockdown on 23 March. At least nine rhinos have been poached in South Africa’s North West province alone.

In neighbouring Botswana, at least six rhinos have been poached since it closed its borders to limit the spread of coronavirus. Last week, the country’s government announced that five suspected poachers had been killed by the military in two separate incidents.

In Kenya, which normally attracts 1.5 million tourists a year, 70 to 80 per cent of whom visit to see its famous national parks, rangers are concerned by reports of hunting groups crossing into the Maasai Mara national reserve from Tanzania. And as the lockdown grinds on, the rangers fear that former hunters may be forced to return to poaching if they cannot feed their families.

Previous Safe Havens

While poaching is not unusual in Africa – 9,000 rhinos have been killed by poachers in the past decade – experts said the incidents in Botswana and South Africa were surprising because they occurred in tourism hotspots that, until now, were considered relatively safe havens for wildlife.

Elsewhere, three giant ibis and 100 stork chicks were recently poached by gangs in Cambodia. It is thought the birds were killed for their meat, which would have been consumed locally or sold on the black market.

In Colombia, conservation group Panthera has reported an increase in the poaching of wild cats.

And it isn’t just distant wildlife havens that are being targeted: at least 27 protected birds of prey were illegally killed in Austria recently and another three in neighbouring Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia.

“While public life is severely restricted and the authorities are focused on fighting the pandemic, dozens of protected animals are victims of unscrupulous criminals. This is a real scandal,” said Christina Wolf-Petre, species protection expert at the World Wide Fund for Nature in Austria.

Poaching Reward

The rewards for poachers can be high, according to wildlife analysts. The trade in rhino horn smuggled from Africa to Asia is so lucrative that it is controlled by international criminal syndicates. The horn can sell for as much as £45,000 a kilo on black markets in China and Vietnam, where it is coveted for exotic remedies and as a symbol of wealth.

While China banned the trade in wildlife in the early phases of the pandemic, experts believe that moved illegal activity elsewhere. Reports have emerged of Vietnamese traders in Hanoi marketing tiger bone glue and rhino horn as cures for Covid-19.

In India’s Rajasthan region, Prem Kanwar, a ranger at Bhensrodgarh Wildlife Sanctuary, which is home to several endangered species including leopards, confirmed that the pandemic had brought a new and unwanted challenge. “Poaching and hunting pressure has risen substantially,” she said. “This is not limited to local people; hunters from other areas have also increased the scale of their activities.”

Rangers are continuing to go out on patrols despite a lack of personal protective gear. Five recently tested positive for Covid-19 in Suriname, while Jenny Geddes Gomes of Ecuador’s Galapagos National Park died last month after contracting the virus. With her team in Rajasthan, Ms Kanwar is doing what she can to protect herself on the frontline. “Those of us who cannot afford to purchase protective gear are using cloth-based masks,” she said.

In an effort to wrest the initiative back from the poachers, a number of environmental organisations have begun raising money for cash-strapped reserves that need help paying rangers and guards. It comes as Namibia warned that more than 600 community game guards could lose their jobs because of the collapse of eco-tourism.

Paul de Ornellas, Chief Wildlife Adviser at WWF-UK, said that the current crisis means greater efforts will need to be made to support the protection of wildlife and communities. “It’s right that the global focus is on human health in this crisis, but to prevent further devastating pandemics we need to tackle the root causes. This includes halting deforestation and the illegal wildlife trade,” he said.

“In the short term, with ecotourism revenue gone, we are seeing reports of spikes in poaching and illegal logging, as empty parks and reserves are left exposed. We need a plan that offers a sustainable way of life for all and ends the exploitation of wildlife and the decimation of our forests.”

Secret dehorning programme to save endangered rhinos in Africa, as countries struggle to tackle poachers

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Tom Bawden, i News | May 15, 2020

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Four hundred rhinos are being ‘dehorned’ in ten days to protect them from criminals as conservation groups struggle to tackle an upsurge in poaching under lockdown. The project is unprecedented in scale and shrouded in secrecy to reduce the threat of sabotage.

The rangers, drivers and co-ordinators of the project have been asked by the Government of the country involved not to reveal its identity, so they can only say it’s in Africa.

Some £15 million worth of rhino horn is being removed from animals in a particularly vulnerable part of Africa, which cannot be named for fear that vehicles carrying the cargo from the safari park to the capital city would be targeted by criminal gangs.

Horns Will Grow Back

The move aims to protect rhinos by rendering them worthless to potential poachers – while the horns will grow back in time, conservationists say.

Rhino horn is seen as a status symbol in some Asian countries, making it more valuable than gold. It is in high demand for Chinese medicine and for carvings.

There has been a surge in poaching as tourists, who normally deter many would-be poachers by their presence, stop visiting wildlife safaris under Covid-19 lockdown.

At the same time, the worsening poverty caused by the virus is pushing more people into crime.

“We’re absolutely shocked by this sudden rise in poaching”, said Damian Aspinall, whose UK-based animal conservation charity, the Aspinall Foundation, is overseeing the project.

He says the area where the dehorning is happening has seen 15 rhinos poached since the virus hit, compared to no poachings in the same period in the run-up to coronavirus.

‘Absolute Last Resort’

“Dehorning a rhino is an absolute last resort. Though the process is painless and the horns begin to regrow immediately we would only take this extreme course of action were it absolutely crucial for the survival of the animals. The speed and brazen approach of these poachers has left us no choice, there has never been an emergency of this scale or level,” Mr Aspinall said.

Poachers are now acting with near complete freedom given the new difficulties in policing and protecting the space that is now free from tourists and the crucial eyes on the ground that they provide.

It is estimated that the eyes on the ground provided by tourists accounts for up to 60 per cent of cover in Africa’s parks, leaving 40 per cent to the rangers.

The Project Explained

1 — How does the dehorning process work?

—The dehorning process is like trimming your nails. The horn is made up of keratin, the same as your hair and nails. When removed, it grows back.

—The vet flies in the helicopter to find the rhino.

—The vet darts the rhino from the helicopter with a drug called M99.

—The helicopter pilot then shepherds the rhino to keep it in a safe space, away from water, cliffs, rocks, etc.

—Once the rhino has been sedated, the helicopter lands and the vet ensures that the rhino is stable.

—The ground team moves in and the dehorning process starts.

—An electric saw is used to remove the horn to ensure the procedure can be completed as quickly as possible.

—The horns are then catalogued, weighed and processed as per international and government regulations. Photos and other required and DNA samples are taken of the rhino.

—The ground team then moves away and the vet gives the rhino a reversal drug to wake the rhino.

—The helicopter then takes off with the vet and they monitor the rhino from the air to ensure the rhino gets up and is able to move off without complications.

2 — Does this hurt the rhino?

No, the horn on a rhino is made up of modified keratin, very similar to that of your fingernails. It can therefore comfortably dehorned without injuring the animal.

The rhino is tranquilised during the operation. The team works quickly, and the entire procedure is done within 15-20 minutes.

3 — Rhinos use the horns to defend themselves, what will happen now?

Rhinos only real predator is man. There are several studies demonstrating the removal of the horn does not have an adverse effect on the rhino.

4 — Won’t some of the rhinos die due to sedating and darting them?

The veterinary team is very experienced with the precise amount of drug needed to sedate the rhino, and they have not lost a rhino on previous dehorning exercises. Every precaution will be taken to manage this risk. The drugs which will be used are also very well advanced and have been used with great success previously.

5 — What happens to the removed horn?

The rhino horns belong to the reserve or park who own the animals. They are managed very carefully within an internationally regulated framework. The data from each horn is captured and recorded in a catalogue. Along with details of the rhino, photos of the horn and photos of the rhino.

The operation is guarded by armed rangers to ensure the safety of the team due to the high value of horns. The horns are then taken to a secure vault at an undisclosed location. The data is recorded on a national register and declared. The horns are not destroyed.

Dogs trained to protect wildlife have saved 45 rhinos from poachers in South Africa

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By Lucy Harvey & Lorraine King, The Mirror |May 13, 2020

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A pack of dogs that trained to protect wildlife have already saved 45 rhinos from poachers in South Africa.

The dogs, who range from a beagle to bloodhound, began training from birth and learnt how to handle all the pressures of real operations before working at 18 months-old.

Original photo as published by the Mirror. The pack of dogs have saved the lives of 24 rhinos (Image: Sean Viljoen / SAWC / Ivan Carter WCA / Caters News).

Sean Viljoen, who is based in Cape Town, shared photographs of the dogs in action at the Southern African Wildlife College in Greater Kruger National Park.

The 29-year-old is the owner of a production company called Conservation Film Company which aims to bring cinematic storytelling to the characters on the frontline of conservation and share stories of hope.

Johan van Straaten, who is a K9 Master at the college, said: “The data we collect for this applied learning project aimed at informing best practice, shows we have prevented approximately 45 rhino being killed since the free tracking dogs became operational in February 2018.

“In the areas where the Southern African Wildlife College patrol, the success rate of the dogs is around 68 per cent using both on and off leash free tracking dogs, compared to between three to five per cent with no canine capacity.

“The game changer has been the free tracking dogs who are able to track at speeds much faster than a human can in terrain where the best human trackers would lose spoor.

“As such, the project is helping ensure the survival of southern Africa’s rich biodiversity and its wildlife including its rhino which have been severely impacted by wildlife crime. South Africa holds nearly 80 per cent of the world’s rhino.

“Over the past decade over 8,000 rhino have been lost to poaching making it the country hardest hit by this poaching onslaught.”

The dogs which include a Texan Black-and-Tan Coonhounds, Belgian Malinois, Foxhounds and Blue Ticks are trained to ‘benefit required counter poaching initiatives’ which includes free tracking, incursion, detection, patrol and apprehension dogs.

He adds: “They begin training from birth and are socialised from a very young age.

“They learn how to track, bay at a person in a tree and follow basic obedience.”

“At six months we put all that training together more formally – they do have the necessary skill set to do the work at a younger age but are not mature enough to handle all the pressures of real operations.

“Depending on a number of factors dogs become operational at around 18 months old.”