Vets are de-horning rhinos to save them from poachers—is there a better way?

One’s got to tackle a problem by addressing the root cause. When it comes to the illegal rhino horn trade, what would you say is the root problem—the horn, or the poacher?

You’ve probably said the “poacher”; pretty much everyone would. For wildlife conservationists who don’t have the means to tackle the root problem, however, a band-aid approach has been rolled out.

©YouTube Screenshot | Caters Clips

A controversial de-horning program initiated by veterinarian Dr. William Fowlds sees the lopping off of rhinos’ giant horns … before poachers do.

Footage of a rhino getting its horn cut off with a chainsaw has sparked debate as to whether or not this is really the way to go. Some have argued it leaves the rhino defenseless; others say it’s akin to chopping off one’s nose. The operation is gut-wrenching, to say the least.

For wildlife conservationists, however, this is saving the rhino population—one horn at a time.

Those who understand the shocking state in which rhinos are left in after being poached for their ivory are more likely to side with the de-horning project.

Illustration – Flickr | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters

“Getting to help a rhino is the exception,” says wildlife veterinarian Peter Rogers, as reported by Motherboard. “Most often we just find them dead, with half their face hacked off. The poachers are completely barbaric.”

Conservationists admit it pains them to de-horn rhinos, but are racing to do so before a poacher gets to them, which would leave them for dead.

“It is sad that we have to de-horn rhinos to protect what we love from unscrupulous poachers. We love our rhinos, but to save them we have to maim them,” explains photographer Luc Hosten, who snapped the de-horning of a rhino in Kragga Kamma Game Park in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Veterinarians cut 8 centimeters above the base of the rhino’s snout, which avoids damaging the rhino’s sinuses. Poachers, however, leave them with gaping wounds and fatal injuries.

©YouTube Screenshot | Caters Clips

Where does the demand lie?

According to National Geographic’s rhino map depicting illegal trade routes and countries with the highest demand for rhino horns, “most horns end up in medicinal markets in Vietnam and China.” Furthermore, 2,500 rhino horns were illegally shipped to Asia between 2006 to 2010. In November 2011, $3 million to $11 million worth of illegally freighted rhino horns were seized in Hong Kong.

By 2014, rhino killings in South Africa exceeded births, signaling a rising demand.

Tackling the problem doesn’t just lie with the poachers though, for the demand is fueling them and encouraging more to participate in this aberrant trade. Unfortunately, stopping the demand isn’t so straightforward.

Illustration – Wikipedia | Jonathan Groß derivative work: MagentaGreen

“The scariest part about the crisis now is how it’s being taken over by organized crime,” said Dr. William Fowlds, a South African wildlife vet. “These guys love wildlife products because the rewards are higher and the risks lower than trafficking weapons, drugs, humans—anything else.”

In fact, what’s scarier is when organized crime is state-sanctioned, that is, perpetrated by an authoritarian regime like China. How would you deal with the “poachers” in this case?

Re-enactment for illustration purposes only

Take forced human organ harvesting for example. Though the international community condemns the Chinese regime’s systematic killing of prisoners of conscience for their organs, why do they continue with these crimes against humanity?

The root of the problem indeed lies with the Chinese Communist Party, who’ve been abducting Falun Gong practitioners—peaceful meditators with healthy organs—and locking them in jails nationwide, but the demand from wealthy Chinese and foreigners traveling to China is fueling China’s lucrative transplant trade.

Falun Gong practitioners gathered in New York on World Falun Dafa Day 13.05.2015

This then brings to light a grave issue that the root problem feeds off—a demand, one that is based on either ignorance or selfishness. So, how would you say these problems should be resolved?

For more on China’s forced organ harvesting, watch the video below:

Here’s a video depicting the de-horning of a rhino in South Africa: