An endangered East African black rhinoceros and her calf walking in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park


It’s the year 2025, and you are finally on your way to South Africa to fulfil your life-long dream of an African safari. And while reality exceeds your expectations in more ways than one, there’s one thing that has you perturbed and perhaps slightly disappointed: the black rhinos’ horns are missing!

Granted, the pointy appendage that is both the creature’s weapon and its pride is one of the features that makes the rhinoceros stand out. However, human greed and, dare we say foolishness, has left many reserves with little choice but to remove the object that catches poachers’ eyes to protect the majestic beasts.

From being used to make ceremonial cups and ornaments to being powdered for preparing aphrodisiacs and traditional medicines, rhino horns have sadly established a firm footing in the world’s black markets — especially in certain Asian countries.

And painless as it is, the harmless process of removing the horns of the critically endangered animals automatically dissuades poachers from hunting them. Still, there remains to be a lot of conjecture surrounding the possible implications of dehorning. While the benefits of such an exercise have long been proven, some sceptics think it could have some effect on rhino behaviour and biology — either through the consequences of not having a horn or the dehorning process itself, as it requires the animal to be sedated.

But now, new research conducted by the University of Bristol Vet School, Namibian Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism, and Save the Rhino Trust has revealed that there are no statistically significant differences in key factors of population growth like breeding, birth, survival, life span and death between dehorned or horned black rhinos!

The study delved into four sub-populations of black rhinos in Namibia. Three of the four populations had been subjected to some level of dehorning at least once, while the remaining group had had no such experience.

Researchers looked closely into the age of females at the birth of their first calf, the average time between the birth of calves for each female, birth sex ratios, calf survival, life span and the cause of death. Incidentally, there seems to be no evidence that dehorning harms black rhinos.

This finding is extremely encouraging for the continued use of dehorning as an anti-poaching technique in black rhinos, considering just how crucial it is to ensure anti-poaching measures themselves do not compromise the population growth of the animals.

“In an ideal world, no one would want to remove arguably one of the most iconic features of a rhino, its horn, but unfortunately, this is not an ideal world, and relentless poaching has forced many reserves to resort to dehorning,” said Lucy Chimes, former MSc student from the University of Bristol Veterinary School.

Due to the small sample size of this study, however, further research is required to confirm the validity of these results.

The findings of this study are detailed in the European Journal of Wildlife Research and can be accessed here.


For weather, science, space, and COVID-19 updates on the go, download The Weather Channel App (on Android and iOS store). It’s free!