Native to Assam, India, and found in many of its national parks such as Kaziranga and Manas, the one-horned rhinoceros is a magnificent animal that attracts tourists from around the world. It has become one of the many symbols of Assam.
Sadly, the one-horned rhinoceros remains under threat from poaching and is classified as a vulnerable species.
More than 100 rhinos were killed by poachers in Kaziranga alone from 2005 to 2015, and it can be speculated that more have been killed by poachers since.
Like many other rhino species it is under threat from poachers because of its horn, which is used in traditional Chinese medicine, among other things.
While the medical use of rhino horn has been illegal since 1993, poaching rhinos for their horns is still an ongoing problem. Traditional Chinese medicine has used rhino horn for conditions including gout, rheumatism, fever, headaches, vomiting, food poisoning and typhoid. It is also considered to be an aphrodisiac.
The Indian and Assam government have taken steps to try and combat poaching such as shooting to kill poachers in the national parks.
Another method that is being used to try and reduce rhino poaching around the world is dehorning rhinos.
At first glance this may seem barbaric to those unfamiliar with rhinos and zoology. Some may even argue that trying to dehorn rhinos would be like trying to remove the tusks of elephants to prevent poaching, since poachers kill elephants for their tusks.
But the horns of rhinos can be removed safely, and they are different from the tusks of Elephants and the horns of other animals too. If a rhino loses a horn they will grow back, which usually takes around 3 years.
According to a study by the endangered wildlife trust and the Department of Environmental affairs of the Republic of South Africa, dehorning has yielded positive results in Africa, such as in Namibia, where between 1989 and the early 1990s, dehorning coupled with rapid improvements in security and funding for anti-poaching was perceived by stakeholders in that country to have contributed significantly to reducing losses to poaching.
In Zimbabwe, the massive dehorning programme, coupled with the translocation of rhinos from vulnerable areas into well protected Intensive Protection Zones (IPZs) and conservancies away from the country’s borders is perceived by stakeholders in the country to have contributed to reducing losses of black rhinos to poaching in the early 1990s.
Rhinos that have been dehorned in recent years in the Zimbabwe Lowveld conservancies (Savé Valley Conservancy, Bubye Valley Conservancy) appear to have a 29.1% higher chance of surviving than horned animals.
In Mozambique, dehorning on a private ranch close to Kruger has been effective: no dehorned rhinos have been killed, whereas there were previously significant losses of horned rhinos.
However, sometimes dehorning can still lead to some horn remaining. The demand for horn can lead to poachers killing dehorned rhinos for the small quantity that remains.
So why not introduce a market for dehorned rhino horns?
Legal trading of horns that were safely dehorned. After the rhino has been safely dehorned, it should be legal to sell that horn. This would meet the demand of consumers who wish to buy rhino horns while reducing the profitability of poaching.
In the US, when alcohol prohibition was introduced, alcohol was being sold on the black market by criminal organizations, but when the ban on alcohol was lifted, illegal black market sale of alcohol by these organizations reduced drastically.
A legal market would also incentivize breeding more rhinos, as it will become profitable to do so, leading to an increase in their population and thus preventing extinction. Private ranches can be allowed to sell rhino horns so long as they were dehorned safely and the rhinos are kept under good living conditions. The incentive to breed more rhinos will increase and so will the rhino population.
Legally trading horns which were safely removed, combined with increasing awareness of poaching and encouraging people not to consume products that contain rhino horns can go a long way in reducing rhino poaching.
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