The plight of Africa’s rhino has been extensively documented worldwide, and unfortunately, the battle against poaching shows no signs of waning. In response, anti-poaching and rhino monitoring methods are continually updated and reviewed across the various reserves and national parks to protect these magnificent creatures.
One such initiative to monitor and track rhino populations involves a micro-chipping and ear-notching program. Each reserve utilizes a distinct notch pattern, which allows for the identification of individual animals. This process involves the removal of a small triangle of skin from a rhino’s ear, with an associated numerical value assigned to the specific notch pattern. Consequently, each reserve maintains its own notch map, an invaluable tool in tracking the movements of rhino populations, particularly in private reserves adjoining the Kruger National Park.
The story behind No Hope’s name emerged during a dehorning and notching mission. As the veterinarian prepared to notch her ears, he noticed that one side of her ear had been torn off, leading the vet to exclaim, “there’s no hope of notching here!” The unfortunate remark inadvertently became her endearing name, and ever since that day, she has been affectionately known as No Hope!
In the face of adversity, No Hope’s resilience symbolizes the ongoing fight to protect these endangered creatures. It is through efforts like dehorning and notching programmes that we hope to secure a brighter future for rhinos, ensuring their continued existence in the wild.
In addition to ear-notching, a DNA database has been established by the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory of the University of Pretoria to create a DNA register to profile every South African rhino.
Microchips are implanted in different areas on the rhino and DNA samples are collected when rhinos are immobilised for any reason (such as dehorning or ear-notching) or when rhinos are translocated. DNA samples are also collected at all necropsies that are performed on poached rhinos as well as the carcasses of those that have died from natural causes.
The DNA database, microchipping and ear-notching scheme has proved to be a valuable reference in, not only monitoring the movement of rhino on a national basis, but also for the sentencing of criminals who have been found in possession of illegal rhino horn. DNA samples are taken from seized horns and can be genetically matched on the database to establish the territory, age, and sex of the poached rhino.
So, next time you are out on a game drive and come across a rhino, take a closer look at its ears that show the visible reference of his numerical name and recognised territory. You obviously will not see the microchips but may take some comfort in knowing that his life is being covertly monitored, by way of the national rhino DNA database, all for his own safety!