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Poaching Forces Botswana to Dehorn, Translocate Rhinos

FILE - In 2016, the Botswana government reports nearly 50 rhinos were killed.

Botswana has begun dehorning its wild rhinoceros population in a bid to save them from poachers. Botswana wildlife officials say poachers killed 56 rhinos in the last two years for their horns, which fetch a high price in Asian markets. Botswana since April has been relocating its black rhinos, which are critically endangered, to a secret location.

The country's acting director of Wildlife and National Parks, Cyril Taolo, says at least 56 rhinos have been poached in the last two years.

As a result, Botswana has decided to dehorn and translocate all the rhinos in the vast Okavango Delta to a safer, secret location.

Both the white and black rhino have been targeted by poachers in the recent past.

Conservationists warn the black rhino might be extinct by next year at the current rate of poaching.

“A decision was taken to implement measures to protect our rhinos so that we could combat the poaching of these animals" Taolo said.

Some of the rhinos were relocated from neighboring South Africa in 2015, with Botswana considered a safer haven. It is unclear how many rhinos are in Botswana.

Principal veterinary officer Mmadi Reuben said the dehorning process is not painful to the rhinoceros.

“Dehorning of rhinos does not hurt the animal. It's a procedure that is equivalent to cutting of nails in perspective of humans" Reuben said. "What we do is that we preserve the growth plate of the horn, and we cut the horn where there is actually dead material. In other words, there is no sensitivity in the area that we are cutting and there is no blood supply within that area.”

Conservationist Neil Fitt said while it would be ideal to have the animals in their natural habitat, circumstances in Botswana call for a change of approach.

"The poachers are really, really hammering us. So what the government has decided to do, which several other governments have decided to do in the area, is dehorning policy to discourage (poachers)," Fitt said. "Probably as a short term, I hope it is a short term, yes I would support 100 percent what they are doing."

Botswana is battling a rise in poaching incidents, with nearly 20 poachers killed in gun exchanges with local soldiers in the last year.