South Africa has dehorned dozens of rhinos in three popular game parks -- a move aiming to prevent armed poachers taking advantage of a crash in tourism to kill rhinos for their horns.
The controversial exercise leaves rhinos with horn rumps too small for poachers to bother with.
Nico Jacobs, a helicopter pilot and founding member of the non-profit Rhino 911 took Reuters for a ride over the Pilanesburg National Park where we spotted a lioness eating the carcass of a rhino that had been poached days earlier. Experts fear the recent absence of tourists due to the global lockdown may already have spurred a poaching spike.
The team then headed to a spot where they tranquilized a female rhino before removing her horn with an electric saw. One of her calves had to be restrained.
But Jacobs says the main goal is to protect the animals:
"One of the only solutions that we have now is to trim the rhino's horns and so we've started this unprecedented practice to try and protect these animals by removing their horns. We are not saying it's the absolute solution."
Working alongside authorities, they began dehorning three years ago. Jacobs said they had since seen a drop in poaching. The numbers of rhinos in the parks, and how many have been poached, are kept secret to protect them.
The creatures have walked the earth for 30 million years, but decades of hunting and habitat loss have reduced their numbers to about 27,000 today, according to the International Rhino Foundation.
A rhino horn sells for $60,000 a kilogram, more than cocaine or gold. In East Asia, it is used in medicinal potions, despite containing the same key component as human fingernails.
Dehorning is controversial, especially as it makes male rhinos vulnerable in fights. But horns are not essential for survival, and, like fingernails, they do grow back.