– Siya Ndlela & Hilton veterinary surgeon Ryan van Deventer.
Ryan van Deventer (Hilton veterinary surgeon), Dylan Lane (Husqvarna), Pavel Hajman (Husqvarna), Stefan Terblanche (CEO of Rugby Legends & former Springbok) & Craig MacKenzie (Gwahumbe Game & Spa).
Power tools manufacturer, Husqvarna, which usually supplies the forestry, agricultural and industrial sector with equipment, has found a somewhat unexpected application for its chainsaws and blowers – dehorning rhinos!
The company has donated a petrol chainsaw for the initial cutting and the battery saw for the finer trimming as well as a blower to keep the anaesthetised rhino cool during the procedure.
This week, the Gwahumbe Game & Spa near mid-Illovo joined the fight to save KZN’s rhinos when it gave its last remaining male, eight-year-old Vuyo, the chop.
Lodge director, Shanon MacKenzie, said they and other private resorts are left with no option. “We were too anxious about Vuyo’s safety to allow him to be photographed and we postponed adding to the herd because of the risk of poachers wanting their horns. We are extremely fond of him. He came here when he was just three. The decision to dehorn him was made with his survival and safety very much at the forefront of our minds.”
The dehorning was the result of a partnership between Husqvarna and veterinary surgeon, Dr Ryan van Deventer, who kept a close eye on Vuyo’s well-being throughout.
This seemingly drastic measure is due to the devastating decline in the rhino population – and poachers’ savagery.
At the beginning of the 20th century, 500,000 rhinos wandered across Africa and Asia. This dropped to 70,000 by 1970 and today, in the wilds, only about 29,000 rhinos remain.
Since 2008, poachers have killed at least 5 940 African rhinos. By the end of last year, the number of African rhinos killed by poachers had increased for the sixth year in a row.
A single horn can sell for up to R150 000 locally but fetch as much as R5 million in the East where it is highly prized in traditional Asian medicine.
The local rhino dehorning campaign, using Husqvarna outdoor power products, is proving highly successful with increasing numbers of private game reserves joining the initiative.
Up until now, there has been some resistance as some believe dehorning reduces the animal’s attraction for tourists.
But, former Springbok rugby player and CEO of the Rugby Legends, Stefan Terblanche, who was also on hand to for Vuyo’s procedure, argued: “We must do all we can to reduce rhino poaching. It’s far better to have a dehorned rhino that is alive and that we can still enjoy seeing in our reserves.”
Dehorning was first used to help reduce poaching pressure in Zimbabwe in the 1980s.
When rhinos are dehorned professionally, the horn is taken above the growth layer of the skin. Rhino horn is like a fingernail and can be cut or trimmed without stopping continued growth. But poachers brutally kill or maim animals to uproot the entire horn from its base under the skin in the bone.
Vet Dr Ryan van Deventer started working on the dehorning project a year ago.
“Before dehorning, many rhino owners used ankle bracelets and horn transmitters for monitoring purposes. Although some of them are still resistant to dehorning, as the poaching problem escalates more and more reserves are realising they need to minimise the risk to the animals. It’s not a total solution to the problem but merely part of a holistic plan to try to prevent poaching,” he said.
Van Deventer explained that the recommended method to reduce poaching risk was to remove the horn as low to the base as possible, in addition to removing the side walls of the horn. This leaves a small rounded bump of horn, reducing the poaching risk to the animal.
“But it’s not good enough to merely dehorn and expect there to be no poaching threat: you must ensure other checks are also in place,” he cautioned.
Husqvarna’s equipment makes the whole process a lot easier.
“The Husqvarna chainsaw is quicker than an oscillating saw. Once the animal is immobilised and stable, the procedure takes about 20-30 minutes,” he explained.
The Husqvarna blower kept the rhino’s core body temperature down which was particularly important during the procedure, especially during the hotter seasons. “There is always a risk with anaesthesia. Added to this is that white rhinos are particularly sensitive to the opioids. So we want to perform the dehorning as efficiently and quickly as possible,” he added.
Husqvarna marketing manager, Jacqui Cochran, said the company was happy to support this somewhat unexpected use for its equipment. “We are totally committed to this project and thrilled that our diverse range of equipment is being used for a cause as worthwhile as saving the rhino.”