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Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife extends dehorning to contain high levels of poaching

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has taken decisive action in response to the alarming surge in poaching incidents, particularly within Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park (HiP) during 2023.

Despite concerted efforts, the province lost 325 rhinos in 2023, with a significant 307 of those poached within HiP.

To address this crisis, and in collaboration with WWF South Africa, Ezemvelo initiated an HiP dehorning programme on 8 April, with efforts now well under way. 

Expressing the gravity of this decision, Ezemvelo CEO Sihle Mkhize said, “It is with a heavy heart that the organisation has decided to dehorn. Rhino dehorning goes against the grain of what we stand for, but the persistent threat posed by poachers has necessitated more drastic measures to protect our rhinos.”

While dehorning is costly and requires repeated efforts every 18 to 24 months, Mkhize extended heartfelt gratitude to WWF for their pivotal financial support, emphasising the importance of multi-stakeholder collaboration for conservation success. He underscored the significance of creating an enabling environment for private sectors, NGOs, and local communities to collectively safeguard wildlife.

WWF South Africa’s CEO Dr Morné du Plessis said: “A decision to dehorn is never taken lightly and only one of a wide range of interventions which together seek to simultaneously remove the potential reward of rhino poaching while increasing the likelihood of being caught.  

“The province of KZN has played a critical role in rhino conservation in Africa which is why we are committing resources towards supporting the authorities in their efforts to protect rhinos. Beyond the dehorning programme, we will also be supporting Ezemvelo in its broader efforts to implement the Ezemvelo KZN Guardianship Strategy for Rhinoceros.”

The dehorning initiative marks a pivotal moment in Ezemvelo’s anti-poaching efforts, aligning with proven strategies implemented elsewhere, such as in Kruger National Park. Mkhize emphasized that while dehorning is not a panacea, it forms part of a comprehensive approach to disincentivise poachers targeting horned animals.

Ezemvelo remains committed to the implementation of the recently approved Ezemvelo KZN Guardianship Strategy for Rhinoceros which aims to significantly reduce poaching incidents. This strategy, endorsed by the KwaZulu Natal Nature Conservation Board, sets ambitious goals to mitigate poaching, complementing ongoing efforts which include intensification of anti-poaching patrols and surveillance, improvement of boundary fences and ranger living conditions, integrity testing and now dehorning.

The strategy dovetails with a number of recently reported initiatives aimed at fighting rhino poaching. These include:

  • The investment of approximately R11 million by the KZN province to erect a smart fence to cover a significant portion of the park where poaching levels are high

  • The financial support of approximately R40 million by the national Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment to extend the area covered by the smart fence around the park

  • Drastically increasing the numbers of field rangers from 45 to 88

  • Introducing integrity testing among frontline staff

  • Installing trackers in all vehicles

  • Improving relations with adjacent communities

  • The additional helicopter hours added with night vision capability, including the deployment of more field rangers

  • Lastly, the appointment of Sthembiso Ndlovu as the Senior Manager: Rhino Protection

A sedated rhino laying down after having had it's horn removed.
© Delport Botma
To address the rhino poaching crisis, and in collaboration with WWF South Africa, Ezemvelo has initiated an HiP dehorning programme. © Delport Bothma

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