The South African National Defence Force’s (SANDF) effort in ending rhino poaching has moved into its own backyard, with the horns of all rhinos on and in the vicinity of Air Force Base Hoedspruit now treated with chemicals to make them unusable.
The treatment option was chosen over dehorning by long-time South African Air Force (SAAF) conservation officer Lieutenant Colonel Phillip Oosthuizen.
Horn treatment of rhinos on and around the Limpopo base was decided on after five rhino were killed for their horns at Umhlametsi private nature reserve on the farm Boston North adjacent to the Hoedspruit base. Another contributing factor was no less than three breaches of security and a failed attempt to track and kill rhino on Suikerkop, part of AFB Hoedspruit’s buffer zone.
Oosthuizen chose treatment because it makes horn unusable, is visible with the use of dye and is longer lasting than dehorning. Rhino horn regrowth is visible a year after dehorning, while treatment with a mixture of ectoparasitacides and indelible dye lasts up to four years. Prominently placed signage warning rhino have had horns treated is also intended to serve as a further deterrent.
The treatment of AFB Hoedspruit rhino was done in collaboration with Dr Lorinda Hern of the Rhino Rescue Project, the provincial department of environmental affairs, a local vet, the Green Kids Initiative and SA Military Health Service’s animal health directorate.
While the rhinos were immobilised for horn treatment, DNA samples were also taken for registration on RhoDIS (Rhino DNA Index System). This database is maintained by the University of Pretoria’s Onderstepoort Veterinary Faculty at its veterinary genetics laboratory. DNA held there has been successfully used to obtain prosecution of poachers arrested in the Kruger National Park.
The SANDF’s other commitment to stopping rhino poaching comes from soldiers deployed in Kruger. While their primary duty is border protection they assist park rangers and others involved in Operation Rhino in anti-poaching patrols and follow-ups after poaching incidents.