Rhino Dehorning: the Latest in the War on Poaching

Over the last decade, over ten thousand rhinos have been lost to poaching across Africa.

With both white and black rhinoceroses already endangered, these catastrophic losses have pushed both species even closer to extinction.

In South Africa alone, 451 rhinos were lost during 2021. Although the general trend over the last few years has been a decrease in numbers lost each year, which looks positive (although 2021 was the first time in 6 years that the number went up again), the harsh reality is that these numbers may just as equally reflect the much lower numbers of rhinos left to poach as they do the increase in anti-poaching efforts across the continent.

With increasing pressure on declining rhino populations that are being squeezed into smaller and smaller areas, the focus of poaching has seen a dramatic spike in private reserves over the last year. Although well-trained, well-armed anti-poaching teams are operational on most private reserves in the region that boast rhino numbers, the staggering and ever-increasing value of rhino horn on the international market has meant that no deterrents seem too great, and rhinos continue to be lost.

More and more lodges and reserves are falling back on the last-resort solution of dehorning their rhinos. By removing the very thing the poachers are after, the hope is that rhinos lives will be spared.
This tactic has proved successful in many areas, although some conservationists hesitate before implementing it as a practical solution because of its potential impact on the rhinos themselves. Although the removal of the horn doesn’t cause the individual rhino any harm (it will grow back after a few years), it is still a functional part of their anatomy, and it is still unsure what long-term repercussions might be felt in dehorned populations with males left without their main weapon that they use to defend territories.

The problem with dehorning in the private reserve sector (or solution, depending on which way you look at it) is that it’s becoming more and more of an all-or-nothing affair, in that every reserve needs to buy in, or none. Since effective conservation is largely a function of space, many operators have dropped fences between them and their neighbours to create larger contiguous ecosystems for wildlife, but the free-roaming nature of rhino populations in reserves like these means that de-horning operations need to be reserve-wide.

If one reserve opts to dehorn their rhinos but its neighbours don’t, the population with horns intact will naturally become the target for poachers; all reserves/lodges therefore need to be in agreement.

The three-reserve system of the Sabi Sand, Sabie Game Reserve and Mala Mala, near the Kruger Park, are the latest high profile group of reserves to dehorn their rhinos, with an extensive period of a 25 days being allotted to the operation.

The entire reserve’s population was dehorned as well as ear-notched, which not only dramatically reduces the poaching threat but through the notching will allow closer monitoring of individual rhinos. The decision to dehorn was not an easy one for the reserves to take, but with over 400% increase in poaching across the protected area in the last two years, reserve management and lodge owners alike felt that it was the best step to take.

Despite the dehorning hopefully buying a reprieve for the area’s beleaguered rhinos, all three reserves continue to increase their security efforts through added technology and inter-reserve communication.

Let us hope that the dehorning initiative will prove as effective in this, one of South Africa’s flagship conservation areas, as it has been in other parts of the country.

The Difference Between the White and Black Rhino

Even the avid safari-goer has asked the difference between the white and black rhino. It is a common question and for some, a rhino is a rhino. But there are in fact five different species of rhino left in the world and we can see two of them in Africa; namely the black and white rhinos. 

The reason that so many people ask this question is that their respective names don’t make identifying them any easier. Both species are in fact grey, but there are many other distinctive features and characteristics that distinguish the two. Some of these include appearance and diet, habitat, and behaviour. 


The white rhino is substantially larger in size than the black rhino and has a long barrel-shaped body while the black rhino is more compactly built. 

The white rhino has a broad, flat and muscular square-lip for grazing and the black rhino has a pointed hook-lip used to feed on leaves, shoots and branches. 

The white rhino has a long face, small eyes and a small neck because it doesn’t need to lift its large head to feed. 

From the side profile, you notice that the white rhino has a relatively flat back with a small hump at the end of its back whereas the black rhino has a deep arch in its back. 

They also have distinguishable ears. Because the white rhino has poor eyesight and its head is always towards the ground, its hearing is heightened and important to its overall awareness and safety. The white rhino has very long, tubular ears that funnel sound into them and which it swivels independently like little satellites even when it is resting. 

The black rhino has its head raised most of the time meaning it is less dependent on just one of its senses. As a result, its ears are much smaller and rounder in shape.

If you look closely, you will see that their horn-size differs slightly too. The white rhino has a longer front horn with a much shorter second horn. The black rhino tends to have a slightly shorter front horn and longer second horn, meaning that its two horns are more similar in length.


Sometimes the habitats of the black and white rhino can have proximity, but usually, they have their distinct areas where they can be found more commonly. For example, a white rhino will usually be found in open areas where it is easy for them to graze and the black rhino will be found in areas with high thicket density where he can feed off trees and bushes.


Due to different habitats and diets, the white rhino is more likely to keep its head towards the ground and the black rhino will usually have its head facing upwards as it spends most of the time feeding off branches. 

The black rhino is often described as more aggressive and inquisitive than the white rhino. With heightened senses than the white rhino, if the black rhino picks up the scent of a threat it will swivel its body and keep its head held high to pinpoint danger. 

The white rhino is more likely to keep its head low and rather swivel its ears to keep safe and often run from a threat. However, do not underestimate them as they are still potentially dangerous.

Let’s appreciate our wonderful rhinos and help protect them for future generations to witness their grandeur. General estimates suggest that there are only around 15 000 white and 3 000 black rhinos left in the wild. The IUCN lists the white rhino as Near Threatened and the black rhino as Critically Endangered. This is one of the crucial reasons that conservation areas such as Londolozi Game Reserve and the Greater Kruger National Park are in place today.