Rhino Conservation - dehorning Zimbabwe's rhino

15 September 2017

We are giving you a unique opportunity to join vets and conservationists as they dehorn rhino on a private game reserve in Zimbabwe. Volunteers will help the game park team and local vets during the 2 day operation, as they dehorn five animals - both black and white rhino.

The need to dehorn the rhino at the reserve comes around quickly. Just when the rhinos have a nice growth, the time comes where the vets have to be called in and the iconic horn has to be removed.  It is a very thought-provoking time, knowing that the greed of man and lack of education about the benefits of rhino horn are the only reasons why the process is so necessary.

The dehorning of rhino is practiced on many reserves throughout South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia and is seen as a relatively effective way of deterring poachers. Dehorning doesn't totally stop poaching, as there is still a band of horn left which could be hacked off. But evidence  has shown that dehorning, when widely advertised, does deter poachers. They will seek to find the most lucrative targets, according to a study, and will generally avoid farms and reserves with dehorning and good security.

The horns, which are made of compacted hair (keratin) - the same as your fingernails - grow back, so reserves are encouraged to dehorn their rhinos every 18 months to two years. For rhinos on private reserves, studies have shown there to be no obvious changes in behaviour and no adverse effect on the rhinos - with the rhinos up and about after about 15 minutes. Sad though it is to see these magnificent animals without their iconic horns, dehorning is a vital way to protect and secure the rhino for future generations.

How is dehorning carried out?

  • Rhinos are usually darted from the ground 
  • A pen is used to mark the point of removal – usually 7cm from the base of the front horn and 5cm from the base of the back horn
  • While under anaesthesia, a chainsaw or hand-saw is used to cut the horn off horizontally
  • Eyes and ears are covered to prevent noise / disturbance / damage from the saw
  • The stump is trimmed to remove excess horn at the base, then smoothed and covered with Stockholm tar to prevent cracking and drying

We are offering volunteers a unique opportunity to join game park staff, National Parks rangers and experienced vets in a vital conservation activity; as endangered black and white rhino on a private game reserve in Zimbabwe have their horns removed. This is your chance to participate in a hands-on operation, critical to the future of the rhino in Zimbabwe.

Volunteers joining the project in early October will participate alongside the dehorning team and, in addition to normal Rhino & Elephant Conservation project activities, will be involved in:

  • Locating animals which are to be darted in the open
  • Assisting with preparing animals for darting
  • Monitoring the rhinos' heart rate and other vital signs once anaesthetised
  • Supporting vets in measuring, weighing and recording horn dimensions
  • Monitoring the rhinos' behaviour after the operation

“My opportunity to assist with dehorning while volunteering was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. This was a truly “hands-on” operation that I am proud to have assisted with. Working with incredible and experienced vets and getting so close up to the rhino, all while helping with a proven long term conservation task is something I will remember forever.”
- Richard Fox

Dehorning dates: 3rd & 4th October 2017
Location: Zimbabwe

Project pricing:
1 week (2nd - 9th October) - $750
2 weeks (either 25th September - 9th October or 2nd - 16th October) - $1,495
Longer stays are possible, please check for availability.

Places on the project are limited, so, to take advantage of this amazing opportunity, please get in touch soon!

*** UPDATE ***

We managed to get some great footage of the dehorning, so if you've ever wondered how it's done, take a look at Rob's video below.

To find out more about the Rhino & Elephant Conservation Programme in Zimbabwe, please follow the link.


Further reading on dehorning

  • Click here to read the Save the Rhino International discussion paper about dehorning rhino
  • Click here to read the Endangered Wildlife Trust 2011 study on the dehorning of African rhinoceros as a tool to reduce the risk of poaching
  • Click here to read a 2013 paper by Raoul Du Toit and Natasha Anderson from the Lowveld Rhino Trust, whose research challenges some of the supposed consequences of dehorning
  • Click here to read 'Caught in the Crosshairs' a scienceline article investigating the dehorning debate

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