A team on a private game farm outside Gravelotte guide a rhino bull into a container vehicle during a morning-long dehorning and translocation exercise. Photo: Joe Dreyer

Four rhinos were darted and dehorned on a private game reserve outside Gravelotte on Friday morning, the 23rd of September. The team led by experienced wildlife veterinarian, Chris “Bossie” Boshoff and his assistant, Yke Osmers, embarked on their mission just after sunrise to complete the task before midday. With temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius in the forecast, Boshoff and his team needed to be finished before the heat caught up to them and placed the animals in danger.

Local rhino and wildlife legend, Piet Warren, readies himself for the dehorning process. Photo: Joe Dreyer

An experienced game helicopter pilot, Jana Meyer, of Hope for Wildlife, joined up with the team shortly after their arrival on the farm. The plan was straight forward; Boshoff would dart the identified animals from the chopper while the ground crew traced and dehorned them. The ground crew consisted of roughly 12 men, including Osmers, on three bakkies. Two young bulls were also darted and translocated to manage the population dynamics on the reserve. Wildlife veteran and local legend, Piet Warren joined the ground crew and dehorned two of the rhinos himself.

The day was made possible by Enza Safari, a private travel company providing luxury conservation experiences to national and international guests. Enza Safari covered the costs of the helicopter for day, the dehorning, translocation, and the veterinarian costs. The horns that were removed were bagged and tagged and transported via a security detail off the reserve to an undisclosed location in Gauteng.

The team under the guidance of veteran wildlife vet, Chris “Bossie” Boshoff, load one of the rhino bulls into a container vehicle. Photo: Joe Dreyer

Rhino horns consist mostly of keratin, which is the same substance that human finger and toenails are made of. Their horns grow back at a rate of one kilogramme per year and the animals feel absolutely no pain during the dehorning process. In fact, the biggest horn removed on Friday, was from a bull that Bossie had dehorned three years ago. This and several other factors have caused a concerted effort by many private rhino breeders to push for the legalization of the rhino horn trade to save the species and stop poaching. Dehorned rhinos are no longer targets for ruthless poachers and legalizing the trade in their horns will illuminate the need for an underground black market.

Naysayers often counter the argument with the example of the ivory trade which was legalized to stop the poaching of elephants. The legalization in this instance was not a success, however, because the demand for ivory rapidly surpassed the supply. Unlike rhino horn, ivory tusks do not grow back, which is at the core of the supply and demand dilemma. A rhino can deliver horn at a kilogramme a year and the animal does not have to be killed. With current stockpiles in the country, the chances of a supply backlog forcing poachers into the fields in search of rhino horn, is a very unlikely outcome.