Rhino dehorning | my experience

One of the most emotionally taxing experiences of my life so far

A few weeks ago we were invited to go away with friends to Phinda Bayete for a weekend in the bush. I have never been to Phinda, and being invited to this exclusive “Friends of Phinda” camp was such a treat for us. With the help of Justin’s mom and an Aupair who cared for our babies, we escaped for what was destined to be a magical weekend. We had no idea just what an experience was ahead of us!

Day one spoilt us with Lion Cubs having a snack, mama Lion calling her cubs into sight, and baby leopard brothers staying close together as the sun set. It was unreal.

Day two started just as well with Ellie’s drinking out of a nearby camps pools, hippos racing into the water, and restful cheetah cubs relaxing with very full tummies. As if all of this was not enough for us to leave right then and there with the most incredible experience of a lifetime, we were then invited to join the Phinda team on a Rhino dehorning mission. Considering it is #worldrhinoday today I thought I would share my {emotional} experience with you guys…

I was instantly filled with all kinds of emotions. Disbelief. Excitement. Nerves. And more. But this was happening and we were along for the ride! And what a ride it was 😳😳😳

The idea is that a helicopter locates and “runs the Rhino down”, into a safe plain. This way they work out some of their energy prior to darting them, and once they go down they are in a safer, flatter piece of land where there is less risk of the Rhino injuring himself when he is darted or upon waking.

The team on the ground (us included) had to literally chase the helicopter around the reserve, staying as close as possible in order to be there once the Rhino was darted and subdued. The excitement of the chase had all of us swept up in adventure. We could not believe we were about to witness this.

Rhino dehorning
Dirty faces from racing through the bush on game vehicle

It wasn’t until the beautiful male white Rhino had been darted and I was able to see it a couple meters away from me that I was overwhelmed with so many emotions. The overpowering two being anger and sadness. Sadness does not even cut it. Heartbreak seems more fitting. Seeing this big, beautiful creature being subdued, and stripped of his horn was nothing short of heartbreaking for me. And within me grew an anger against human beings who have created a world in which this is the lesser of the two evils. Being dehorned humanely, to live without your pride and protection of your God-given horn, in an attempt to preserve your life so you are not one added to the devastating statistic of those being slaughtered for a “trophy” that is really just made up of keratin, the same protein found in hair and fingernails!!! Even writing this now, weeks later, I feel my heart racing and blood boiling. It is just the most unnecessary and stupid of human acts. “Since 2008, 7 130 rhinos have been poached in South Africa, severely affecting the African icon’s numbers.  With a rhino killed at an average rate of one every eight hours, there are more rhinos being poached than born every year.” Source

We were cautioned to stay back while the team ensured the Rhino was adequately subdued, lying in the correct position (or moved so he was), and blindfolded and his ears muffed to minimize his stress as much as possible. Once they were happy that all was in place they signaled for us to join the team. The moment that saw started grinding away his horn my heart sank and I couldn’t talk.

All of this for that tiny horn
Every horn is chipped
And recorded for tracking and safe keeping in a vault

This big, beautiful creature just lay there, unable to move, and as the team kept him cool with wet rags and water, I felt pulled towards him, to touch him and love on him. It sounds so silly but I tried telling him he was okay, he was safe, and loved. I’m sure I imagined it but I felt like he calmed down a bit more and his heavy breathing settled… but it was probably just the meds kicking in more 🙂

There was a strong smell in the air, and our car full of previously excited game viewers was strangely quiet and subdued.

Once both horns were removed successfully the remaining horn was smoothed down and medicated.

While I had all of the emotions, and for the better half of the day thereafter was very quiet, I know one thing for certain; I am forever changed by witnessing this dehorning process. My heart still hurts when I think back on it all.

It also has to be said that the team in charge of this dehorning at Phinda was nothing short of extraordinary. Their main priority is the safe-keeping and protection of this incredible species, and as I witnessed, took every precaution to ensure it’s safety was not in any way less than their utmost priority in every way. While I’m angry that there are humans who create the need for this horn to be taken from this creature, born out of greed and selfishness, I’m equally as humbled and proud to be a part of a species that steps up and shows up for this beautiful being, and puts millions of rands into going to these lengths to protect them.

“I WOULD RATHER SEE 200 DEHORNED RHINO ALIVE THAN HAVE TO CARRY OUT AN AUTOPSY ON ONE DEAD RHINO” – VETERINARIAN MIKE TOFT source

Important factors in Rhino Conservation include:

– education & awareness

– funding

– support & sharing about activities or events focusing on fund raising

– rooting out corruption in the police force, judiciary system and within reserves themselves

Simon Naylor speaks a bit about Rhino Conservation at Phinda and in SA:

https://www.facebook.com/InternationalRhinoFoundation/videos/10155696656414353/

If you feel lead to aid in Rhino conservation here are a few organizations you can reach out to:

International Rhino Foundationhttps://rhinos.org/give/

Wildlife Act Fund (donate here)

WESSA Rhino Initiative

Project Rhino KZN

Save the Rhino

Rhinos without borders (relocation of Rhino)

Author: Shan Fourie

I am a happy South African wife and a truly blessed mom of two beautiful boys and a baby girl...! I am CREATIVE and love creating things and teaching myself. I love people, my friends and family especially. I love positivity and change.

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