Rhino Rescue Project
In our past newsletters the conservation pieces shared devastation and loss with regards to the Rhino's being lost in South Africa and the elephants being poached in Cameroon.
This week we would like to highlight the RHINO RESCUE PROJECT team that is working hard to find a solution. Proactive and not reactive.
“All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph, is for enough good men to do nothing” – Edmund Burke
ABOUT THE PROJECT
With the number of rhino’s lost to poaching exceeding 300 in 2010 alone, over 400 in 2011 and 100 in 2012, there is no doubt a solution for rhino poaching needs to be found.
After a poaching incident on their Reserve at the end of May 2010, the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve, near Johannesburg in South Africa contemplated many methods of fighting the poaching scourge: from de-horning of animals to microchips and tracking devices. The problem they found with all of the alternatives, however, was that they were largely reactive instead of proactive, and did not deter poachers from striking again.
Logically, a permanent solution is to eliminate the demand for rhino horn altogether. Education would go a long way towards teaching consumers that rhino horn contains no nutritional or medicinal value, however, education will not produce an immediate result, and results are what we need at this point.
In the weeks immediately following the poaching of our rhino cow called Queenstown, we considered poisoning our rhino’s horns. It was an emotionally-based reaction which we began researching. We liaised with many researchers working on a number of different projects, including those affecting the general health of rhino. Of particular interest to us was work being done on the control of ecto‑parasites (ticks etc.), through the treatment of the horn with depot ectoparasiticides. Because all of our rhino’s are wild they would not normally be treated against parasites, since we believe strongly in nature being allowed to run its course and human intervention being kept to a minimum, however, upon realising that treatment could potentially neutralise a dual threat (both poaching and parasites) we decided to proceed with testing and then the subsequent treatment.
Ectoparasiticides are not intended for consumption by humans, and are registered as such. Although not lethal in small quantities, they are extremely toxic, and symptoms of accidental ingestion may include, but are not limited to, severe nausea, vomiting, convulsions and / or nervous symptoms. Because of these side-effects, the treated rhino and their horns must be visibly identifiable, to avoid ingestion of treated horns by people. Furthermore, in the selection of acaracides for inclusion in the treatment compound, care was taken to only consider Ox Pecker-friendly acaricides to ensure little or no collateral damage to other animals and organisms sharing the rhino’s habitat.
We soon realised that the treatment of the horns, along with an indelible dye, would go a long way towards helping us achieve our goal of protecting all rhino’s in South Africa from poaching. The dye, similar to products used in the banking industry, is visible on an x-ray scanner even when ground to a fine powder. Thus airport security checkpoints are almost certain to pick up the presence of this dye in a treated horn regardless of whether the horn is intact or in powder form.
Testing is ongoing and comprehensive, to ensure that the animals have in no way been harmed by the administration of the treatment and, based on the research, it is believed that the treatment should remain effective for approximately three to four years, after which re-administration would be required.
In addition to the treatment and dye, a DNA sample, harvested using a DNA sampling kit called RHODIS, is sent to Onderstepoort so that the information can be added to a national database. The aim of the database is to aid the legal community in securing prosecutions by supplying information on the source of a horn or parts of a horn found on a suspect. Furthermore, sniffer dogs have been trained at a professional training facility to track rhino horn, even in minuscule quantities. The last logical step towards establishing a holistic approach to assisting in the war against poaching has been to include sophisticated tracking technology, and so the Rhino Rescue Project recently entered into a joint venture with SPOTS (Strategic Protection of Threatened Species). This means that, should a treated rhino horn be poached, it will be possible to get information on the whereabouts of the severed horn.
There are many speculations and statements being made in the press around the treatment programme and it urgently needs to be clarified that the Rhino Rescue Project horn treatment programme is not out to poison the consumers. While it may have been part of the motivation in the beginning, more than a year down the line, with ongoing research to support the initial project, it has evolved into so much more.
If it were simply a case of poisoning the consumers in an attempt to get them to stop buying rhino horn, we would not be creating as much publicity around it and trying so hard to explain every aspect of the programme. Instead, the aim of the programme is prevent the rhino’s being poached in the first place. Every treated horn that enters the market means another rhino has died, and in essence, the programme has failed that animal. Rather we are hoping that treated rhino’s will be left alone, their horns intact; so that they can continue with their lives in the same way they have for decades. It’s the only proactive solution that does not entail dehorning or farming rhino as livestock. It is cost-effective and has no long-term effects, the perfect interim solution to be used by owners of small rhino populations who do not have the resources available to provide each rhino with an armed guard. And hopefully by the time the initial treatment needs to be reapplied, a permanent solution will have been found.
The hunting fraternity can also benefit from the programme as it will keep their rhino safe until they are due to be hunted, ensure that their animals are entered into the RHODIS database, and once the hunt is completed, the head can be mounted for legitimate hunters who have no desire to use the horn for anything other than a trophy to be displayed.
Since rhino’s have no way of defending themselves against the greed and ruthlessness of man, the Rhino Rescue Project has armed the rhino’s of the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve and encourages every other rhino owner to do the same.
Please see the Rhino Rescue Project website for more information: