HARARE - Zimbabwe’s wildlife authority is dehorning rhinos in an effort to fight poaching and save the endangered species from extinction. Not everyone agrees with this approach.
Matobo National Park, located about 500 kilometers southwest of Harare, is one of the few places in Zimbabwe that still has rhinos. Poachers kill them for their horns and, according to the government, smuggle them mainly to Asia. Colum Zhuwawo, a senior ecologist with Zimbabwe’s National Parks and Wildlife Authority, says if the horn is removed, the animal may not become extinct.
"Our focus on dehorning is not something we are initiating as Zimbabwe. This is something we are initiating as a region. The motivation, especially this year is, if you look at statistics regionally, South Africa, that is where most rhino poaching is," said Zhuwawo. "They have actually upped their game in terms of law enforcement, in terms of security. There are high chances that poachers are looking elsewhere now. It is more probable that they could be turning to Zimbabwe. If they come and they do not see the horn, we are confident that they are discouraged from poaching."
Today, Africa is home to about 5,000 black rhinos, as compared to about 65,000 back in 1964, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)’s Redlist. Other animals on the list include cheetahs.
The African Wildlife Foundation attributes this decline to poachers taking advantage of the poverty of locals. In the past, Zimbabwe has had little success in its battle to keep its wildlife — including white and black rhinos — from poachers, which is why the country has resorted to dehorning its remaining rhinos.
Johnny Rodrigues, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, says this approach may not work.
"We do not believe in it," he said. "[The] biggest thing is crime syndicates with a lot of big chefs involved. That is why they cannot bring it to an end. Even if you dehorn the rhino, the poachers do not know it because poachers do it at night. So you dehorn for nothing. We should put more people in there [in national parks] to safeguard."
Big chefs refers to the involvement of senior government officials in poaching, an allegation which President Robert Mugabe’s government has vehemently denied on several occasions.
In July, the visiting president of the Africa Wildlife Foundation, Kaddu Sebunya, said the continent was in a “crisis” of poaching, which called for African leaders to quickly come together since poaching has cost some countries their entire rhino populations over the past 20 years.