Hornless rhinos?

What characterises a rhino? Some might say its huge size, immense power, thick legs, or prehistoric appearance, but I am sure the majority would say their horn. It is what symbolises a rhino, so why the sudden increase in dehorning over the past few years?

The answer is obvious: over the past few years there has been a shocking increase in rhino poaching. In 2011, in South Africa alone, 448 rhino were poached for their horns and as of mid-2012 over 300 have been poached. These horrific figures indicate the urgent need for both proactive and preventative measures to curtail the rhino poaching crisis. At a first glance, it would appear that by simply removing the horn the problem is solved; rhinos should be worthless to poachers. However, the issue is a lot more complicated than it first appears.

Namibia was the first country to use dehorning to protect rhinos from poaching. Between 1989 and the early 1990s, dehorning coupled with rapid improvements in security and funding for anti-poaching was perceived by stakeholders to have contributed significantly to reducing poaching losses. In Namibia, not a single dehorned rhino was poached.

There have been several other successful cases across Africa. Rhinos dehorned in recent years in certain Zimbabwe Lowveld conservancies appear to have 29.1% higher chance of surviving than horned animals. In Mpumalanga, South Africa, just over one-third of all the reserves’ rhinos (excluding Kruger NP)  have been dehorned, and out of the 33 rhinos killed from 2009-11, only one was a dehorned rhino.

Dehorning of a rhino bull - Zimbabwe

However, there are numerous cases where dehorning has proved insufficient to prevent rhinos from falling victim to poachers. For example, in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe during the early 1990s, the majority of dehorned rhinos were killed just 12-18 months after being dehorned. In Zimbabwe’s Save Valley Conservancy, six newly dehorned rhinos were poached during January-August 2011 (one rhino was killed within 24 hours and another within five days of being dehorned).

For dehorning to be effective, it must be coupled with extensive anti-poaching security and monitoring efforts. With an absence of security, rhinos may continue to be poached regardless of whether they have been dehorned.

So why do poachers continue to target hornless rhinos? This is often attributed to the stub of horn that is left after removal. If the horn is cut too close to the germinal layer, this could damage the horn base and lead to deformed horn re-growth. Current dehorning is estimated to remove 90% and 93% of horn mass in male and female white rhinos respectively. So during any dehorning exercise a stub of horn will remain: although poaching is made less profitable, the sad reality is that poachers will still kill for a horn stub due to its high value.

Poachers may also kill dehorned rhinos out of vengeance. In Hwange NP, it was thought that poachers killed dehorned rhinos, to avoid tracking them again. Furthermore, if there is thick bush or hilly terrain poachers may not see if the rhino has an intact horn prior to shooting.

Horns grow back over time, with recent studies claiming that the re-growth of dehorned rhino horn appears faster than growth in non-dehorned rhinos. With the current severe poaching threat, experts recommend that rhinos should ideally be dehorned every 12-24 months in order to be an effective deterrent.

Dehorning is an intrusive procedure and, like any immobilisation, there is a risk to the rhino during the operation. While all efforts are taken to reduce the risk, there are sometimes veterinary complications while the animal is under anaesthetic that may result in death. The more frequently the rhinos are immobilised, the greater the risk.

In addition, dehorning is incredibly costly, due the effort of finding the animals and the costs associated with the immobilisation process, especially if needed on a recurrent basis. The actual cost depends on several factors, but current published estimates for dehorning range from US $620 (Kruger National Park) per animal to US$1,000 (private land). It is estimated that it would cost around US$5.8-8.8 million for a one-off dehorning of all the rhinos in Kruger National Park. (In practice, one could never hope to dehorn 100% of the population: some will successfully hide away and one should never dart a pregnant cow.)

An important consideration in the dehorning debate is whether rhinos actually need their horns. The evolutionary significance of horns in rhinos is not entirely clear, and may include mate choice or anti-predator defence. It is known that rhinos use their horns for several behavioural functions, including defending territories, defending calves from other rhinos and predators, maternal care (including guiding calves) and foraging behaviour, such as digging for water and breaking branches. Male rhinos use their horns during disputes over territory or dominance, so removal of the horn may undermine the ability of a particular bull to retain territory or status. On a positive note, dehorning has shown to reduce fighting-related mortalities among black rhinos in Zimbabwe. However dehorning may also decrease the value of rhinos, whether for photographic or hunting tourism or as a potential live sale.

The issue of dehorning leads on to another ‘thorny issue’ – what should be done with the horns? These could be destroyed; however they are more likely to be stockpiled by owners awaiting the potential legalisation of the trade. The current permit system for possessing, transporting and storing horn is considered to be onerous and presents a security risk through the leakage of information on the whereabouts of horns. This risk is emphasised by the fact that at least 38 horn-related thefts had occurred by mid-2009, including several armed robberies. In South Africa, there has been a substantial internal trade of rhino horn from natural mortalities and illegally dehorned rhinos and subsequent leakage of horns onto the international black market.

If rhinos are to be dehorned, it should be done in conjunction with a publicity drive to ensure that poachers are aware that the rhinos have been dehorned. If not, there may be a lag effect whereby poachers continue to target rhinos in the area. There is also the possibility that dehorning rhinos in one area simply transfers the risk to horned individuals in other areas.

Dehorning has its place in rhino conservation and, although not a stand-alone solution, recent successes demonstrate that, used alongside other methods, dehorning can be used to protect rhinos. Due to the invasive nature of dehorning, it should only be considered as a last resort under conditions of severe poaching threat. For example, although dehorning is not routinely practised in Kenya, its small population of Northern White Rhino is routinely dehorned due to the exceptional conservation value of being the last remaining individuals of the subspecies.

A first priority for all rhino conservationists should be to ensure adequate anti-poaching monitoring and security (including intelligence-gathering) to protect rhino populations, and only then should dehorning be considered, for is a rhino really a rhino without its horn?

How is dehorning carried out?

  • Rhinos are usually darted from a helicopter, but occasionally from the ground in smaller reserves
  • 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

Further reading on dehorning

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

(100) Comments

  • Anonymous commenter
    10 February 2013, 20:51

    After a rhino is dehorned could a synthetic replacement horn be glued to the stump. If it was made in an unnatural colour it would be obvious to a poacher that it was not worth killing. There would be the potential to incorporate a tracking device into the replacement horn.

    Alternatively instead of dehorning the rhino, could a hole be drilled and a tracking device installed so that poached horns can be intercepted as they are smuggled out of the country.

  • Cathy Dean
    13 February 2013, 12:31

    The problem with sticking on a synthetic replacement is that horns regrow, at a rate of about 1 inch per year. These synthetic horns would fall off quite rapidly.

    And field programme managers can and do implant transmitters inside horns, that emit signals to those with receivers, with more and more checkpoints being added at ports and airports. The problem - as always - is cost: anaesthetising a rhino to implant a horn transmitter is around US$2,000 per animal, once all associated costs considered, and the batteries have a life of 2-3 years, necessitating pretty frequent repetition.

  • Anonymous commenter
    08 March 2013, 07:13

    When the poachers take the rhinos horns off, do the rhinos suffer? is it painful?

  • Cathy Dean
    08 March 2013, 09:55

    Try watching this video and then maybe you can answer your own question:

  • Anonymous commenter
    13 March 2013, 03:19

    instead of dehorning could you not just put the rhinos on a reserve and patrol that reserve?

  • Anonymous commenter
    14 April 2013, 01:09

    Why not use the chainsaw on the poachers instead of the Rhinos , I'm sure that would achieve better results .

  • Anonymous commenter
    28 April 2013, 14:19

    all rhinos are in reserves, however the Chinese are sending military helicopters, nothing is being done to educate the Chinese. American zoos which have 'stolen' black rhinos, putting them in nothing but glorified cages, should confer all $ profits back to saving the ones left in Africa.

  • Michelle
    29 April 2013, 05:34

    re: "and only then should dehorning be considered, for is a rhino really a rhino without its horn?"

    The rhino is absolutely still a rhino without its horn, especially if humanely removed.

    Just because we humans will need to adjust our mental image of a rhino, is no excuse not to pursue this conservation method (cost and hassle of dehorning aside.)

  • Andrew
    12 May 2013, 18:25

    A very well balanced and thought out article. The Namibia example shows that it can work provided other enforcement measures accompany it but there must surely be an element of merely moving the poachers elsewhere to rhinos that have not been de-horned. There are so many examples of rhinos being poached after de-horning that I wonder if the risk of the operation is too great and that we are better off leaving them as they are in all their glory. I think de-horning particularly threatened sub-populations such as the Northern White could be beneficial to take the pressure away from them and allow them to re-populate but de-horning on a mass scale would ultimately prove self-defeating. If all rhinos were de-horned then the poachers would simply continue and take what they can get. In fact, if a single rhino gives them a smaller volume of horn then they are more likely to poach more rhino to make up the difference. If supply falls due to the removing of de-horned horns then that would simply push up the price per gram and we are back to square one. De-horn in certain thought out and needed circumstances but otherwise let's concentrate efforts and resources to education programmes and security.

  • Rob Fausnaught
    31 May 2013, 22:23

    Where are the super-rich of the world? I know they donate extensively to African charities, especially Mr. Bill Gates. I understand he wants to help people, but what about the last few pristine areas that are still unchanged by mankind and the wild species they support? Once they are gone there is no going back. Humanity will ultimately benefit by protecting these last wild lands in perpetuity, when the immediate gains to be had by exploitation will be long gone. Without extreme drastic measures rhinos, tigers and other endangered wildlife is doomed to extinction in the wild. I can't even express the anger, sadness and shame knowing "my species" is responsible. I was in Tanzania 8 years ago and the only land that wasn't barren was protected areas off-limits to development. Seeing 2 white rhinos in Ngorongoro, even though they could only be seen clearly through a spotting scope, was a truly one of the most memorable moments of my life. I feel in my heart I have to do something...

  • Anonymous commenter
    01 June 2013, 07:42

    In the article you mentioned the pros & cons of dehorning but my question is this: Once the rhinos are dehorned are they still able to lead a normal life after losing their source of defence and/or way to find a mate?

  • Cathy Dean
    01 June 2013, 10:25

    Rhinos can lead a normal life after being dehorned - as long as they are in an area that does not have a dominant bull that has not been dehorned.

  • Anonymous commenter
    06 June 2013, 19:27

    So am I correct in saying that the best move would be to dehorn all the rhinos in the area?

  • Cathy Dean
    07 June 2013, 09:42

    To the last commenter:
    It's not practical or feasible to expect to dehorn all rhinos in any given area (other than very small reserves) in that: black rhinos are very elusive by nature; one should avoid darting a pregnant cow or one with a very young calf; the expense involved rules this out as an option for most park or reserve managers.

  • Kate Bowditch
    08 June 2013, 18:54

    If poachers (the bad guys) kill rhinos for their horns, and rangers (the good guys) anesthetize them for their horns, BOTH are taking the horns off Rhinos. I wonder what would happen if poachers were given the training to anesthetize rhinos for the for the horns instead of killing them. I KNOW it is counter-intuitive...but, poachers with no rhinos left are only going to look for something else to sell, whereas this crazy method might save rhinos...

  • Laura Adams
    19 June 2013, 17:38

    Hi Kate. Increasingly poachers do obtain drugs to anaesthetise rhinos before taking their horns. But rhinos usually die from their injuries, whether they were anaesthetised or not. Rhino horn is so valuable that poachers make sure they have each and every part of the horn. With de-horning of rhinos, a stub of horn is left.

  • Ian Harrison
    01 July 2013, 19:25

    Hi - I'd like to ask a question about the rhino horn market.
    Is it critical from the market's perspective that horns are complete ?
    Would a buyer purchase small pieces or horn or horn that has already been powdered ?
    In other words, is it important to a poacher to be able to get a whole horn that can be sold as whole horn without having had any processing done to it ?

  • Cathy Dean
    04 July 2013, 13:29

    Good question Ian. The short answer is that yes, entire rhino horns are more highly prized (and expensive), because it's harder to fake, and consumers think they're buying the real deal, whereas ground up horn could be diluted with other substances. Consumers (buying horn illegally of course) will buy the biggest piece they can afford: poor and desperate families with a relative at death's door would buy "rhino horn powder" if that is the only thing they could afford, but senior businessmen would want to buy a whole horn, as a sign of status and wealth.

  • Chris du Plessis
    11 July 2013, 20:57

    Some private reserves in South Africa have started injecting a substance in rhino horn which will make the end user very sick. I think this is an added avenue to pursue in the fight against poaching. But, unfortunately, the problem lies with corrupt officials and politicians. The idea which is forever being pushed by many that officially "harvested" horns be sold to flood the market is naïve wishful thinking. More than 25 000 elephants were poached in Africa in 2011 and still this atrocity continues. There are not enough rhinos in the whole world to satisfy the idiotic market.

  • Anonymous commenter
    26 July 2013, 16:28

    Surely the risk of losing a calf when darting a pregnant cow is lower than leaving the horn on to be poached?

  • Trolsmiter
    08 August 2013, 17:38

    the persons who made this website are the poachers you fools... one horn fetches 200,000USD... they are merely justifying themselves and deamonizing the others! You need hung right along side them.

  • Angela Cornick
    15 September 2013, 18:33

    I have just read this article and can't help but think the Chinese will not stop what they are doing no matter how well educated they are on the subject. I would have thought the additional cost of de-horning every couple of years would be well worth it for the African countries this effects due to the tourist trade it brings in. Such a huge problem with vast areas to patrol and monitor, more warders are needed who are paid a good wage and perhaps some kind of bonus if no animals are poached throughout the year - maybe an incentive then for the warders not to turn rogue or a blind eye to what is happening.

  • Mikey
    17 October 2013, 14:42

    This artical has a lot of problems. The Chinese have nothing to do with this. Chinese medicine had only limited use for Rhino horn, and it was removed from traditional Chinese pharmacopeia in the 1990s. And the reason why in Namibia, not a single dehorned rhino was poached in the late 1990s was because the price of Rhino horn was no more than $500/kg, and a whole horn wasn't worth $3000. Why poach a stub that is worth less than your rifle. However, today, mostly because of rumors in an increasingly affluent Vietnam (not China) that Rhino horn cures everything, particularly cancer, the current price is in excess of $100,000/kg. That's more than gold. That also means, just one good sized stump will pay for the poacher's helicopter. The economics of this does not make sense to argue about the cost of de-horning. A properly run de-horning and security program could not only fund itself, it could pay for any drop in tourist income to the host country. The price is so high the international community MUST allow governments the ability to put live-harvest horns into the market.

  • Anonymous commenter
    03 November 2013, 19:55

    Poachers won't have any more rhinos to poach if they are all extinct!

  • Anonymous commenter
    04 January 2014, 03:11

    We need to save these stupid looking animals.

  • Courtney
    11 January 2014, 08:27

    well thinking back at when I first say a Rhino. I said it was a unicorn! one day I would like to show my children in real life how a Rhino looks... but is that going to happen??? what animal would be next Elephant ?? Buffalo?? leopard?? or Lion?? we need to save our Rhinos before it is too late ...

  • kasper
    05 February 2014, 15:40

    i love rhinos

  • Anonymous commenter
    25 February 2014, 11:17

    does anyone have any idea about new ways to help stop poaching at all?

  • kim s
    06 March 2014, 22:05

    Has any considered starting a rhinoceros farm, where they raise them and humanely (relatively speaking here) farm the horns over the lifetime of the animal? I would think the farmer would make money while driving the prices down on the black market, making poaching less profitable and less appealing? Maybe a philanthropist like Ted Turner could be wooed...

  • Annie
    01 April 2014, 08:32

    I see that someone else has asked my question-what about making a rhino farm so that there is a supply and then (one hopes) less of an incentive ?

    I wish that there was some way of stopping the horns from growing back, or making them grow crumbly (or something like that)

  • Niraj Dubey
    30 April 2014, 12:09

    I suggest, we should start punishing buyers too by both heavy fine and imprisonment if they found buying a Rhino horn or its substance.

    However if it is at all required to sell Rhino horns from naturally dead Rhinos then every country with rhinos can make some certificate to be issues to the buyer that they have bought horns from only authentic source and not poachers. though in some countries it will be easy to do this cause of corruption so international community should have some kind of interference on watching the issued certificates to buyers from sellers.

  • Sandra Harvey
    12 June 2014, 04:51

    Why can't the horn that is removed through dehorning be sold on the market at a very low price so that poachers would be put out of business?
    Kind of like legalizing marijuana so the drug industry would be put out of a lot of their business.

  • Wayneroyce
    25 June 2014, 08:34

    Poachers are killing anti-poachers - in Africa, and that can continue for many years.
    Why not shift those human deaths to the ignorant country of demand.
    Somebody should please impregnate rhino horns with arsenic or C. botulinum and sneak them back into the black market supply line.
    It's just like putting methyl alcohol into methylated spirits to stop people drinking it. You drink enough you die.
    Governments are fine with it.
    Given time they will become fine with doing the same thing to Rhino horn.
    The word will get out relatively quickly, just like melamine in milk did.
    The markets demand will drop to a trickle & the remaining ignorami will have time to wake up.
    Save The Rhino!
    Tie the punishment into the crime.
    Like the law of gravity - you can't thumb your nose at it.
    Ignore it and pay the consequences.

  • sandb12
    29 July 2014, 15:38

    If the reserve is safely cutting off the horns to protect the rhinos from poaching anyway, why not sell the horn, undercut the black market prices, sell them legally, all profits go back to conservation instead of some shady guy, and over the years the problem could be solved. Sounds like win-win to me. What's wrong with this theory?

  • Anonymous commenter
    03 August 2014, 09:01

    I do not believe I am saying this 'legalise the sale of horns'. 'Certified horns' when the rhino is dehorned by the proper methods. Let the national parks benefit from the absurd medcicinal claims.

  • Anonymous commenter
    05 August 2014, 22:26

    Hi, two questions:

    Would it make sense to farm rhinos for their horns? You would keep them in a small reserve and breed them just for that purpose? Keep them safe, but not entirely wild.

    Where does the rhino horn myth come from?



  • CarolSchochFinger
    21 August 2014, 16:41

    Why not use the horns that are taken from the "dehorned rhinos" to scientifically disprove that they have any medicinal value what so ever. If the horns are so valuable, then a portion of them could be sold to pay for the study. Every buyer of Rhino horn should be given a mandatory community service sentence, that has to be fulfilled by either the buyer, or a member of his family, as a penalty for the buyer having bought rhino horn, which should be illegal everywhere. Only "authorized sellers" could sell rhino horn with impunity, and in this case, it would be those who harvest the horn for research, and to save them. All other seller should serve serious jail time. All remaining rhinos in the world, should be put into a fenced reserve, that has cameras, and alarms, and anyone caught poaching a rhino should receive the death penalty. The same with elephants and gorillas. We don't live in the jungle any more. The jungle is evaporating more quickly that a mud puddle in Miami. It's time to stop the extinctions before they take place.

  • Anonymous commenter
    21 August 2014, 20:58

    Imagine you were a rhino. You had your horn your whole life. Then one day you were tranqualized and woke up to your horn being cut off. Why are we focusing on the rhinos having horns as being the problem? WE ARE THE PROBLEM! The people!! The only "humane" solution is life behind bars for having anything to do with poaching. FOCUS ON THE POACHERS not the rhino. Go undercover on their ass.

  • Anonymous commenter
    08 September 2014, 10:35

    When you consider that humans have been breeding animals for special characteristics for thousands of years (consider all the varieties of domestic breeds of dogs and cats, for instance) perhaps the conservationists should get the genetic engineers in and start doing some genetic tuning to breed hornless rhinos. I see nothing impossible about this, although it may be difficult. This would get around many problems associated with horn re-growth (poaching for stump re-growth) and all the rest of it...

  • John
    19 September 2014, 13:29

    Why doesn't 'fake' rhino horn be created by a company, and supply thousands of these things with similar properties of a real horn. This would devalue the real horn and perhaps slow down the poaching. Would they still poach , if there was a steady stream of fake horn .

  • Marie
    22 November 2014, 22:47

    Could they find a mutates gene that produces a hornless Rhino just like the hornless Asian elephant that some carry.

  • Cheyenne
    26 November 2014, 13:25

    Please if your intending to donate, make sure the organizers aren't actually poachers themselves. As mentioned from another concerned individual stated August 8th 2013. And as far as I'm concerned we do need to focus on the people because that is the problem. The Rhinos aren't. Who knows what they do with the horns. We need to either educate the poachers for a non violent approach, which is probably less likely to happen because it's expensive, they will more than likely need donations, and their selling illegally. WE ARE the problem people. I'm not donating for this cause, it's an ongoing market. Find the source, the structure, the foundation and wipe it out. That is how we co create a field of market in a different direction. Infrastructure, look it up. It's happening all around the US, our governmental system, and other parts of the world.

  • evan
    13 December 2014, 22:04

    I'm trying to write a report on rhinos is there any thing the article didn't say about dehorning rhinos.???

  • Anonymous commenter
    30 December 2014, 17:03

    Perhaps the answer to decreasing poaching is to flood the black market with horns from de-horned rhinos, attempting to make them so plentiful that the value goes down and the risks of poaching is no longer worth it. This can only be done while there are still enough rhinos left for this to make a difference.

  • Ben Galncy
    18 January 2015, 11:59

    To the commenter who said the people who made this website are poachers, I beg you to get a brain and please don't post unless you have something worthwhile to say.

  • Anonymous commenter
    18 February 2015, 17:38

    I am just wondering if there has been any detailed research into the behaviour of rhinos after dehorning, particularly mothers and the survival of their calves?

  • Anonymous commenter
    22 February 2015, 18:03

    Traditional Asian Medicine in China must be based on animist magical roots. Most of the sought after products are aphrodisiacs.
    The solution as practically suggested, could be to use genetic manipulation to arrest horn growth on the wild population until the Chinese madness subsides and every Chinese male has a government supply of Viagra. Why don't the Chinese import a population of Rhinos to sustainably and humanely harvest horn?
    The international community has not made poaching and purchasing a sufficient priority to avert species extinction in the wild.
    Science does not successfully apply to religious and cultural beliefs of a population. (See Tea Party)
    Alternate disincentive: Dehorn the poachers in the field a la Bobbitt.
    Impregnate the horn with sufficient estrogen and beta blocker so that consumption will guarantee impotence.

  • Anonymous commenter
    05 March 2015, 00:34

    Unfortunately I think most rhinos die from their injuries where oxygen is slowly cut off, leaving them a painful death, instead of waking up to find their horns gone. Should we not have the same treatment for these bastard poachers? Cut off one of their limbs and die from their injuries?

  • Anonymous commenter
    05 March 2015, 19:33

    Couldnt you give the rhino a kind of toe nail fungus in its horn so its horn was infected and useless?
    Then again, the chinese would probably still eat that.

  • jeremy
    26 March 2015, 03:44

    There is a lot of ignorant comments here about "they need to beef up security". Who's paying for it? Kruger National Park (home to the majority of rhinos left) is over 7500 sq miles. That is a huge amount of land to try and protect, its not like securing a zoo. A legal trade in rhino is about the only way to fund increased security.

  • Anonymous commenter
    09 April 2015, 15:59

    In order to solve this you have to change the economics of the situation. Horns are simply way to valuable now. Trying to restrict supply alone (using rangers against poachers) will have almost no long-term benefit because poaching is way too lucrative.

    Think of the drug trade and how it creates a black market. This is actually a much easier problem because horns provide no benefit to the end user. Its complete snake oil. Drugs are highly addictive so the demand is much harder to kill.

    1. Legalize the trade (in the short term) for governments or approved organizations
    2. Harvest as much as possible (in the short term) greatly increasing supply and lowering market price per pound. This will decrease the value of horns for poachers.
    3. Use the proceeds to increase security and increase supply - further increasing the risk/reward ratio for poachers
    4. Advertise to the applicable Chinese and Vietnamese communities that within a few months poisonous horn and horn products will flood the market. Advertise horn products provide zero health benefits (because its true - its made of keratin - eating their hair would provide the same benefit)
    5. Follow through on point 4.
    6. Advertise/Report on the "positive" results of point 5. This should scare people and reduce demand.
    7. Use science to artificially create supply:
    8. Use science to increase risk to poachers:

    As the product would no longer be that rare and people get educated about what it is actually made of, horns would lose their luster and the market would dry up very quickly. Whatever demand is left over could be easily met by artificial means and poaching would not be worth the time or effort.

  • Anonymous commenter
    30 April 2015, 19:08

    If you can dehorn a rhino, and it grows back, why don't poachers cut most of it (not all)??? Poachers do it for money right? So if the horn grows back they can cut it off again and get more of it! If they kill the rhino then that's the end. If it is so hard and expensive to track rhinos why kill them when there is a much easier way to do it?

  • sam
    16 May 2015, 15:36

    Has anyone ever tried some kind of permanent dye injected into the horns as they grow - it would make illegal horns very obvious and easier to trace - maybe even make them worthless?

  • Ranger James
    19 May 2015, 03:49

    I used to be cop, then I decided I wanted to help save rhinos. so I joined the rangers, although with the job comes with pretty horrific sights. I've had poachers throw grenades at me, shoot at me, and stab me. I've only ever shot 2 poachers, but they both got away. I've almost had to have my leg amputated on the job, only join if you are ready.

  • GIRL#2
    22 May 2015, 03:54

    I <3 RHINOS!!!!

  • Sara
    23 May 2015, 16:56

    Would the money be better spent negotiating with countries that use rhino horn firstly to publicise that it is inert as your fingernail medicinaly speakng, and secondly how endangered they are, to make it socially unacceptable in these counties, without demand there is no problem.

  • Anonymous commenter
    29 May 2015, 20:25

    could we not try and dehorn every rhinos get the horn and sell them to flood the market so that the price of the horn drops we could use the money to help save this animal with more rangers and education of people etc. I would also poison and dye the stump thats left so that it makes it of no use and makes the person very ill if the eat this. I think we have to make wild horns worthless.

  • Anonymous commenter
    08 July 2015, 22:45

    Africa being Africa I have no doubt that there is a level of corruption involved somewhere in the chain. What's being done to look at this? Who is providing the poachers with these weapons and educating them? How do they know the best routes into the parks? How are they so quick and efficient to kill the animal and get the horn out of the country without issues? Seems too many gaps in there and I think until this issue is addressed there will always be problems! Typically where there is large amounts of money to be made, corruption rockets as everyone is looking to get rich quick.

  • Anonymous commenter
    23 July 2015, 18:08

    The synthetic rhino horn option sounds the best, but that's assuming it can by synthesized well enough to fool the fanatics. And don't kid yourself, those dumb enough to believe in random animal parts being medicine are dumb enough to think "organic" is magically better. Actually making horns fatally toxic brings up sticky moral questions as most victims would be desperate and ignorant and nothing happens to the poachers. That said, a misinformation campaign targeted at the countries where it's used claiming that horns are being poisoned could prove effective. Since the horn does nothing, every death it fails to prevent would be blamed on the fictional poison, and it would take on a life of its own.

  • Anonymous commenter
    28 July 2015, 20:45

    Some ideas?????

    1) Incentivize legal trading for landowners. The government will subsidize the protection of those landowners who keep and protect rhinos on their land. The landowners will harvest rhino horn every 1-3 years through safe and harmless procedures and a portion of those profits go to PAYING BACK the government loan for security measures, or a portion of profits will go to additional SECURITY measures for protecting the land. This way, landowners bear no up-front costs for housing rhinos, and will make a profit over the long run. The rhinos themselves will never have ‘long’ horns to tempt poachers into shooting the animals, as they will have their horns removed regularly.

    2) STRONG International propaganda campaign to dissuade Asian markets from buying horns. The propaganda will disprove the medicinal benefits of rhino horn. The most important aspect of this campaign is to reduce the demand for rhino horn, especially among ‘new’ or ‘would-be-emerging’ markets once the trade is legalized. The idea is that only eccentrics or super-wealthy would dare buy the horn, as the popular consensus becomes that it is a waste of money.

    3) SYNTHETIC RHINO HORN – a cheaper, more affordable option for the market.

    4) INCENTIVIZE GOVERNMENT (whoever pays for the national parks) to sell/trade horns as supplemental income. The people who protect the rhinos get the money. Incentivize making the trade SUSTAINABLE by allowing local governments to profit from the sale of rhino sustainably-farmed horns. PROCEEDS OF THAT MONEY MUST GO BACK INTO PROTECTING THE RHINOS.

  • Margaret
    29 September 2015, 12:06

    If a rhino horn is removed why is the stub not dyed or some substance added to it that harm humans but not the rhinos

  • Cathy Dean
    29 September 2015, 12:50

    Hi Margaret

    Because, as we explain in other pages in this section, any external colouration or solution would be rubbed off as rhinos wallow in mud, waterholes etc, and rhino horns are not porous so it is not possible to infuse them with a toxin.

    See these links for more information:

    Thanks for your interest!

  • Barbara H
    03 October 2015, 13:14

    I agree (with 23 July comment) in these days of rampant social media surely a misinformation campaign is easy to orchestrate. After all the whole myth that rhino horns cure anything is a created one. For instance the "fact" that they are poisoned or make the user impotent should be able to reach the countries where it's used. The so-called status symbol effect is a hard one to crack though as more rich people become richer and have to compete with each other to display their wealth. It seems gold, diamonds, luxury yachts are not enough any more.....

  • sara
    14 October 2015, 08:42

    i understand why this is sadly needed but don't the Rhinos need the horn? how does it cope ?

  • Cathy Dean
    14 October 2015, 12:08

    Regarding a rhino's need for its horn (with thanks to the African Rhino Specialist Group's Scientific Officer for the following comments):

    While horns are used in fighting or perhaps by a cow to defend its calf; even after dehorning a rhino can still inflict a heavy and very powerful blow with its head, which is heavy and still has some hard horn on the end of it. Horns are sometimes used by the browsing black rhino to break off branches of some browse species to aid feeding, but on such species the animal can also walk backwards over bushes to also break off material.

    If dehorning was a problem for nutrition this would come through into depressed reproductive performance and this has NOT been the case in areas in Zimbabwe where opportunistically dehorned black rhino have done well and bred well.

  • Anonymous commenter
    19 October 2015, 13:53

    Personally, it is ridiculous to cut off a Rhinos horn because of poachers. Rhinos need horns to survive, it is made for them to attack a predator or even prey. Poachers all around just need to stop poaching. It is horrific and selfish of them.

  • Anonymous commenter
    22 October 2015, 09:36

    i want to thank whoever the author is for writing this article

    We need to educate more people about this increasingly depressing problem.

  • Anonymous commenter
    04 November 2015, 21:07

    I think it 's sad that poachers are taking horns for no reason.
    It's so selfish.

  • matthew
    02 December 2015, 00:29

    I wonder if trying to initiate a worldwide law making the possession of ivory illegal would hypothetically kill the market. It's too bad to think that with all the developments in material science that no one has been able to produce an alternative to ivory. I just don't understand why the fact that ivory comes from an animals is what makes it so desirable. Because if it were about rarity why couldn't one purchase some type of similar mineral, or mother of pearl, etc. It sucks that greed and morality are mutually exclusive in most cases.

  • Tessaract2
    21 January 2016, 19:41

    Why cut the horn off? Just eliminate the poachers altogether: any suspicion causes death row! (Is that too harsh?) (Also username Trolsmiter is an idiot.)

  • Anonymous commenter
    19 February 2016, 06:38

    OMG! Why would you dehorn a rhinoceros? It takes the whole character out of them. Don't get me wrong it is a great idea, but seriously?

  • Jessie D.
    08 March 2016, 15:15

    This is a terrible idea i think the only way poaching will ever stop is through domestication, legalization of the trade, and farming them of the rhinos. Besides there was a baby rhino born without horns and it will never be able to grow them so I say take that rhino and use it to impregnate a lot of female rhinos resulting in some more hornless and so on and so forth its called selective breeding we have a chance now that one has been born hornless. We can't miss this opportunity.

  • Anonymous commenter
    13 March 2016, 08:24

    What can't the horn be removed completely so as to not grow back at all? It's what is done with cattle.

  • Anonymous commenter
    16 March 2016, 05:07

    I totally agree with de Horning. This will stop these beautiful animals from being killed nothing else will. Also elephants need there tusks sawn off. These animal are being murdered every day

  • Anonymous commenter
    14 April 2016, 14:06


  • Anonymous commenter
    30 June 2016, 02:03

    I think that this is a completely valid form of conservation, and would like to ask if it is possible to brand the underside of the foot of the rhino, in an attempt to signal the potential poachers not to track that rhino, as it is not lucrative for them. Perhaps something impermanent ? I am so saddened in the loss of our natural heritage. I hope we are able to combat this senseless loss,

  • bob
    04 July 2016, 14:34

    how much do you get for a rhino horn

  • Keith Wagenknight
    05 July 2016, 00:08

    Easy and simple answer now and I WANT TO HELP, CONTACT ME IMMEDIATELY! For that $6mil I can easily creat a network of drones with FLIR and other sensors to find out if there are humans around the animal or not and alert authorities. It might start out as a post-investegative device but as we increase the abilities and quality(fine-tune device) of the sensors it will become preventative.It might only take a few days/weeks to improve once we test and research its short-commings!

  • Antonymous
    16 July 2016, 17:15

    "Horns grow back over time, with recent studies claiming that the re-growth of dehorned rhino horn appears faster than growth in non-dehorned rhinos."
    That's fascinating as I wonder how hair or keratine struvtures with limited grow cycles keep track of their length, unlike nails or others with unlimited growth, being keratin basically dead cells. I still couldn't find out if a rhino horn actually stops growing after a length is reached or it's just tapering, erosion and wearing off. We know that uncut hair eventually stops growing and if not cut actually rests, then sheds and that's definitely not becausr of wearing, concerning body hair. Hair grows much longer but it stops gaining length for both reason, actually keeping growing in the first case but appearing not to. But a rhino horn, like nails, doesn't shed.
    Coming to the horn market, I can't help but wonder how a market mostly based on ignorance can't be dismantled.

  • Katherine Johnston
    20 July 2016, 10:28

    Hi Bob,

    At Save the Rhino International it is our policy not to report the value rhino horn can fetch in illegal markets. This is even more important where demand is greatest; China and Vietnam. We believe that publicising the potential retail value of rhino horn helps to drive trade and also inadvertently encourages new poachers at a grass roots level to enter the market under the mistaken apprehension that the potential sale price is the amount they will receive in payment. In actual fact, most profit will go into directly into the hands of large, transnational crime syndicates and not the poachers or traffickers working on the ground.


  • Kath. Holding
    14 September 2016, 11:08

    Lets not forget that there is great demand for Rhino horn in the Yemen, where they are used for Dagger Handles.I think that while dehorning has it's place, the money it costs could go in to more Rangers who are better armed, along with a legal shoot to kill policy for Poachers.

  • Anonymous commenter
    26 October 2016, 18:26

    If you really want to save Rhinos and Elephants, then you must stop the prohibition of ivory and make private ownership of these animals legal. Then they can be farmed and once that begins to happen there will be no need to poach these animals at all. So the entire government system of preserves, and banning people from hunting and prohibiting the ivory is precisely what is creating the economic incentives that is causing the extinction of these animals. Farm them, and they will be around forever, both in the wild and domestically.

  • Anonymous commenter
    05 January 2017, 00:29

    Curious, I know that it is very costly to dehorn a wild rhino or elephant. I always wonder why zoos are not trying to find an ethical and more efficient way to to remove small pieces of horn and ivory from animals that reside in them? Since tusks and horns are kept short anyways at most zoos. That would mean they could come up with a way to clip or trim them for safety of the animal and zookeepers anyways. What better way to repurpose those trimmings and create an ethical trading pool that will continue to provide icory and horns? It is already costly to keep such creatures anyways. It shouldn't be so hard to use the studies already conducted on behavior and advantage of slight domestication of these animals to help develope better tools and processes to remove small bits. Thats just my question. But good idea fairies dont always end well. Wish I could ask this question to Elon Musk. He is known for philanthropy and enjoys creating processes to redefine systems that are seen as inefficient. Wonder if he would help...

    07 March 2017, 15:18

    great work guys keep it up

  • Yoja
    07 March 2017, 18:13

    The problem is not only the poachers, but the people that buy it from the poachers. Where there is demand, there will be supply... People in China and other demanding countries need to be properly educated, and this market needs to be eradicated by punishing those who do buy products made with ivory... And the government of these countries need to start some sort of campaign to make people more aware of the massive consequences of buying these products!!!

  • Anonymous commenter
    13 March 2017, 00:03

    Just close your borders, outgoing and incoming......simple.

  • edgar
    16 March 2017, 11:17

    Legalising the trade in rhino horn is controversial, but i think that it is the best way of saving wild rhinos.
    A horn is worth $60k+ and grows in 3 yrs...$20k per rhino per annum!
    A cow takes 18 months to grow to slaughter weight and is worth c.$1000, so about $700 per annum.
    Clearly, the profits from poaching could be reduced by 90%+ if a legal trade was allowed. Would this be enough to substantially reduce poaching? i think so.
    Objections to a legal trade are real- the demand for horn would increase and it would be v hard to tell legal from illegal horns, however, I think that the massive fall in economic incentive to poach would more than outweigh the negatives.

  • Antonymous
    16 March 2017, 14:56

    Yoja, I know what you mean, but they are both a problem, although inciding in the demand with education is closer to the root cause.
    Anonymous: What do borders have to do with it? Well maybe introduce rules for importing, and a critical deconstruction of the money value, where the value of work is collectively assessed so labour would probably be worth much more and if there is a majority of critical thought against poaching, money coming from it is not granted power.

  • i like turtels
    20 April 2017, 19:12

    i like turtles

  • Jamanie
    09 May 2017, 14:52

    This is sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo Sad!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I look like the grinch

  • Christopher Norris
    11 May 2017, 12:39

    Kate Bowditch has the right idea.

    Banning bad things may seem the obvious answer, but consider the alternative. Restricting legal trade has only forced ivory and rhino horn poaching underground, in countries where poverty is rampant and people are more concerned about, say, their own survival than treating ecological populations with empathy. As long as there is a demand for these products, this will continue, and as long as there is no *economic* incentive for maintaining populations, they will continue to decline.

    The advantages of legal trade are manifold.
    i) We know that (unless the root is broken) tusks and horns grow back at a rate of 15-18cm and 9cm per annum respectively. Tranquillisation and horn harvesting would allow 'farming' of these animals, and generate income for local communities. Horn removal is practised already by conservation organisations and does not harm the animal.
    ii) Local communities, seeing the creation of income and employment opportunities would actively work to expand and maintain these zones, as their livelihood would depend on it. Elephant/rhino populations increase, and stabilise (as an additional benefit, tourism revenues also increase).
    iii) The money generated from this trade could fund further conservation efforts and give an incentive for other regions to preserve their habitat too.
    iv) Black market poachers typically mutilate the animal; this method is far more humane (and provides greater yield than waiting for a whole new animal to grow).
    v) A new ivory provider will severely undercut the illegal trade. Why would you risk illegal poaching when there are safer alternatives?

    Several African countries (Swaziland, South Africa, etc.) are already calling for this, because they recognise the benefits on the ground. Let's allow them to prosper from their natural capital, and they will take steps to preserve it.

    Feel free to respond by email if you prefer:

    (sources: and

  • Anonymous commenter
    02 October 2017, 09:01

    Why dont we just farm rhinos for their horns and leave the ones alone in the wild. I cant see why you cant bread rhinos for their horns just like you bread cows for milk. This could be done in another country like Australia. This would stop the poaches would it not?

  • Alexandrea Jean Moffitt
    05 October 2017, 00:18

    How do poachers get the rhinos' horns out of the kuntry??????? and how in the world do they even get the rhinos' horns in the first place??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

  • Gary Los Angeles
    26 October 2017, 12:06

    Cruelest inhumanity at its worst!!!! POTAS Trump and family need to humanely save protect Earth's threatened species and decent human caring beings from inhumane ruthless savagery atrocities !!!!

  • Tim Arnot
    13 November 2017, 08:30

    What alternatives are there to dehorning to prevent the rampant poaching of the surviving rhinos?

  • Sandy
    17 December 2017, 21:24

    Why can't you do what was suggested as far as drilling holes or creating some kind of etchings on the horn to make them not profitable and yet they still have their horns for protection or battles. My concern is how does a mother Rhino protect her young with no horn

  • eyeFORanEYE
    15 February 2018, 05:12

    Can we cut off the poachers testicles?

  • ben
    13 March 2018, 17:54

    stop herting the rhinos.they did not ask for help.It leves them defencless.

  • Anonymous commenter
    19 March 2018, 16:21

    why would people do such a thing

  • Anonymous commenter
    21 March 2018, 18:44

    Why can,t you put a rhino in a reserve or patrolled area to keep poachers away? Sure it would cost more but breeding and population would increase.

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