The name “Tshukudu” means “rhino” in Sotho. And Tshukudu Game Reserve is taking the poaching war on their namesake very seriously.
We chatted with our reserve manager, David Sussens, about the ongoing rhino poaching crisis. It’s been a hot topic for over 10 years but despite that, David says the war is still raging on, with hundreds of rhinos needlessly dying every year. He explains why dehorning is the only way to save our rhino.
Let’s start at the beginning
Over 40 years ago, when the Sussens family opened Tshukudu Game Reserve, they knew their goal was to rehabilitate the land back to its natural state. Previously, scores of wildlife had been eradicated nationwide to make way for cattle ranching. While Kruger National Park was reintroducing wildlife back into its reserve, so was Tshukudu Game Reserve. One of our main choices for reintegration? The majestic rhino, of course.
Tshukudu Game Reserve started with 4 white rhino – now they’re able to sell rhino to other game reserves in Africa
SMART SOLUTIONS WIN THE WAR
Rhino poaching exploded in 2010 and wildlife reserves like ours faced devastating incursions every 2-4 days. Tshukudu Game Reserve began following the traditional antipoaching tactics many Southern African game reserves had to employ. David and a fellow tracker would pursue poachers with the help of Norman the tracking dog. It was literal warfare: “They hear you coming and the bullets go flying,” David says.
“We fought very hard to stop the poaching of rhino… but we could see this was a losing battle.” – David Sussens, Reserve Manager
He goes on to explain how there was a gunfight almost every week. The team were faced with dealing with an ongoing war in an unsustainable way. We realised that the poachers were “going to kill all our rhino and [that] we were going to lose people.”
“So we decided to dehorn,” David says.
SMART SOLUTIONS WIN THE WAR
Tshukudu Game Reserve had dehorned a particularly aggressive male rhino before and the team knew that it was a safe and painless procedure, if done correctly. And, importantly, it was an effective way to stop poaching in its tracks. People may not realise that this procedure doesn’t affect the rhino at all: “It’s a fingernail that you cut. As long as you don’t cut too low down, it doesn’t affect them,” David reassures us.
The impact was immediate and the team went from battling incursions every 2-4 days to experiencing one once a year. By being the first in our area to take the brave move to dehorn, we avoided the fate that many of our neighbours faced, some of whom have lost 80% of their rhino population.
Walk us through it
“It’s a very quick process”, David explains. “You dart the animal and within about 5 minutes he goes down.” Several experienced professionals are involved, including the wildlife vet, the nature conservation official and the Tshukudu team on the ground. The nature conservation official marks the spot our team is allowed to safely cut through, which is 8cm from the base.
The team cuts the horn with a chainsaw and it’s off in seconds.
(Fascinating fact: cutting only three rhino horns results in a blunt blade.)
And after? “You give the animal the reversal [and] he stands up within a matter of seconds,” says David. “The whole process is under 20 mins.”
You’re probably wondering if the rhino are affected in any way. No, says David, “They go back to feeding and carrying on. They still chase lions, they still fight, they still do everything. They just don’t have a huge, huge horn anymore.”
Let’s share the love
Tshukudu Game Reserve doesn’t only work hard at conserving rhino. We also do a lot to safeguard other endangered animals, like cheetah, ground hornbills and vultures.
David constantly does conservation talks for schools. (This interview took place in between one of these talks, whenever David could spare a moment from educating the youth on this massive issue).
Just like David, the rest of the Tshukudu team are nature conservationists first and foremost. That means your safari getaway will always be magically authentic.
Our focus is the wildlife. We love and conserve it. You can too.
Visit our website: https://tshukudulodge.co.za/
P.S. Did you learn something about dehorning?
Share and educate people on how we can stop the war on our rhinos.