1. IS HORN A SUSTAINABLE RESOURCE THAT CAN BE PRODUCED WITHOUT HARMING RHINOS?

Rhino horn regrows at a yearly rate of about a kilogram in males and 600 grams in females. Horn, therefore, can be harvested via dehorning—a process by which a rhino’s horn is partially removed, always leaving the stub to protect the germinal layer where the horn attaches to the bone of the skull. Can this be done without harming rhinos?

Photo credit: Taylor Lee

NO TRADE

It is true that part of a rhino’s horn can be repeatedly removed as it regrows, much like our fingernails and hair. But there are risks: dehorning is highly invasive, and the anesthetic needed to immobilize the rhino can cause breathing difficulties. A pregnant cow should not be subjected to an anesthetic.
Given the high rate of regrowth of rhino horn, the dehorning process would have to be carried out regularly. While this might be feasible for smaller, accessible populations, it would be logistically and financially impractical to dehorn all rhinos everywhere.
In situations where the threat of poaching is high, dehorning is a valuable strategy in the quest to protect smaller rhino populations at very high risk from poaching. But it must be done in conjunction with effective security measures—with horn fetching such high black market prices, it might still be worth poachers targeting dehorned rhinos for their remaining stubs.

PRO TRADE

The risk to rhinos during the dehorning process is hugely overstated. In the early days of dehorning, there were more significant risks, but today immobilizing and capturing techniques are much improved. Mortalities during the process are virtually non-existent. Furthermore, the process is well regulated and carried out by or in the presence of a registered vet and a government environmental officer. Risks to pregnant cows are also overstated—cows in their third trimester should not be anesthetized, but there is little risk in the earlier stages.
It has never been seriously suggested that all rhinos should or could be regularly dehorned, especially in areas as vast as many of Africa’s national parks. The cost of dehorning and the ongoing physical security of rhinos would be irrelevant in the context of a legal trade—it would simply be an operating cost funded by revenues received.