September 21, 2012


This is certainly one of the most iconic pictures of Africa and its inhabitants - a rhino, etched against the sky with the last rays of the day still lingering, head held high and with its horn prominently on display. 

Tomorrow (Saturday 22 September) is International Rhino Day and EcoTraining has been right in the middle of the fight in trying to save these magnificent beasts from disappearing from the natural landscape. We have added a Rhino Conservation and Research course to our program as we believe education is vital to informing not only discerning nature lovers, but all and sundry that has a respect for all inhabitants of this planet. 

The picture, as described in the intro to this story, is however fast fading into oblivion. A hundred rhinos have been killed in the last two months alone and the figure for 2012 has already crossed the 380+ mark. If the current rate of unabated killing continues, close on 600 rhinoceros would meet their end with the bullet from a poacher's weapon by the time 2012 closes out. This would be up from 448 last year and 333 the year before.

And all this for a horn that is made up of keratin, melanin and calcium and similar to horses' hooves, turtle beaks and cockatoo bills. But to change deep-rooted Eastern and Asian believes that it is a cure for cancer, a remedy against a host of other illnesses and an aphrodisiac, is going to take a lifetime. Put on top of that the international fetching price of anywhere between $40 000 to $65 000 per kilogram for this precious commodity, it almost seems like an insurmountable task. Even more so if museums across the globe are now also having to remove their rhinos from public view after a spate of thefts. There have been 57 thefts and 12 attempted thefts of rhino horn from museums in 15 countries in Europe since the start of 2011.

That is why the tireless efforts of private land and rhino owners, rangers, conservation organisations, the police and military, and the general public is of vital importance to save the species. They are taking up the plight of the rhino to ensure that future generations will still have the opportunity to see these grey beasts as part of the natural landscape.

To ensure the survival of their precious stock, the owners of the Selati Game Reserve in Limpopo, where EcoTraining has one of its wilderness camps, undertook a massive project earlier in the year to send a clear message to potential poachers, "Keep your hands of your rhinos!" A group of one year professional field guide students were on hand to witness first hand and got a taste of conservation at work.

The management of the reserve, in cooperation with the proper veterinary assistance, started dehorning some of Selati's rhino population (black and white). Great care was taken during the whole operation and all the necessary measures were put in place. The animals were handled with the utmost care as a rhino's horn is not fixed to the skull, but almost an extension of the skin.

It is believed that the dehorning, in addition to strengthening the anti-poaching patrols on the ground and from the air as well as various other safeguards, will greatly reduce the temptation to those with weapons and a savage agenda. The re-growth will also be monitored and cut regularly to ensure that the horn mass remains very low.

There may be questions and arguments from some corners about the effectiveness of dehorning as a deterrent to poachers, on how and if it affects the social behavior of the animals and the reaction of tourists upon seeing an 'altered' animal in the wild. Nothing overtly negative or detrimental has yet been recorded on each mooted point though.

The bottom line is, the time for talking is long gone and it is only the dedicated action of concerned conservationists, like the landowners of Selati, that will give South Africa's rhinos a fighting chance.

For more information and dates on the Rhino Conservation and Research course, visit or send an email to  

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