5 min read

Poachers Are Dehorning Namibia's Rhinos. So The Government's Going To Beat Them To It.

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Rhino horn poaching is increasingly threatening Namibia's dwindling population, so wildlife officials have stepped in ... and begun cutting horns off the animals themselves.

According to the Namibian Sun, poachers have killed at least 14 rhinos for their horns in the country this year - a significant increase from the less than ten animals lost in the previous eight years combined. Poaching is a growing problem elsewhere as well; in neighboring South Africa, home to the largest number of rhinos, poachers have killed more than 700 so far this year.

"Rhino poaching has risen dramatically, that is why we have to take some immediate and drastic measures," Pohamba Shifeta, the nation's Deputy Environment Minister, told Bloomberg News. "We are going to harvest as many rhino horns as possible."

But the process of humanely removing horns from rhinos is not without potential problems. Since the animals must be heavily sedated prior to having their horns sawed off, manually or with a chainsaw, complications arising from the anesthesia can be fatal. It's also unclear if the loss of their horns negatively impacts their survival in other ways. One study found that dehorned rhinos may be less equipped to defend themselves or their young against other animals.

The group Save the Rhinos says that dehorning has proven to make the animals less likely to be targeted, though it doesn't eliminate the risk entirely. Poachers may still kill a dehorned rhino for the small stub that remains, or simply "out of vengeance" - which means other protections must be put in place to truly be effective.

"Dehorning has its place in rhino conservation and, although not a stand-alone solution, recent successes demonstrate that, used alongside other methods, dehorning can be used to protect rhinos," writes the group. "Due to the invasive nature of dehorning, it should only be considered as a last resort under conditions of severe poaching threat."

Shifeta tells the Sun that his ministry is planning to deploy a 300-person-strong anti-poaching unit to patrol the nation's highest risk regions - with funding for this stepped-up security coming from the very horns they're removing. Instead of destroying the horns, Shifeta says they'll be safeguarded, awaiting approval from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora to sell legally as a way to bolster their conservation efforts.

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