Fab 4 Horn Trimming

The trimming of rhino horns, formally known as dehorning, has reluctantly become a crucial layer of protection in the ongoing battle to save the species. This month, both Spirit and Grey had their horns trimmed, while Muddy underwent her very first horn trimming. Jemu and Lilli, who were trimmed last year, avoided the hustle and bustle of the operations teams.

These operations are conducted under the strictest regulations. With 499 rhinos killed in South Africa in 2023, every possible measure must be taken to protect the rhinos in strongholds such as ours. Teams from South African National Parks (SANParks), Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA), and Wildlifevets.com joined the Care for Wild team for the operation.

Horn trimming involves the safe removal of a significant portion of a rhino’s horn by a qualified and registered veterinarian. The rhino is darted, and part of the horn is removed with a chainsaw. The rough edges are then smoothed with a grinder. Since the entire horn cannot be removed due to the presence of blood vessels and nerve endings at its base, the procedure is similar to trimming fingernails; rhino horns are made of keratin and regrow at a rate of about 4-7 cm per year. This carefully regulated procedure requires permits for the removal and transportation of the horn and must be performed by registered veterinarians with the support of a highly trained and experienced team.

Horn trimming can affect a rhino’s ability to defend itself from predators and other rhinos, necessitating careful consideration on a location-by-location basis. It is essential to understand that horn trimming is not a one-size-fits-all solution to poaching but rather one component of a comprehensive security strategy.

Both Spirit and Muddy were darted together, with teams working on them side by side. Since this was Muddy’s first horn trim, her horn was only ground down, but measurements were still taken to track her growth rate, and essential DNA samples, which are a legal requirement, were collected. She was also given a unique microchip number. Additionally, the opportunity was taken to remove Grey’s old collar and fit Spirit with a new AI-enabled tracking collar due to her increasingly elusive nature with her calf! The procedures were successful, and the removed horns were immediately taken off the Care for Wild premises.