No evidence that horn trimming affects white rhinoceros horn use during comfort behaviour and resource access

Samuel Penny, Rachel White, Dawn Scott, Lynne M. MacTavish, Angelo Pernetta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Rhino species use their horns in social interactions but also when accessing resources, rubbing and in interspecific defence. The current poaching crisis has seen southern white rhinos (Ceratotherium simum simum) increasingly dehorned as a conservation management practise, but few studies have evaluated whether the procedure has any behavioural effects. This study sought to document and describe horn-contingent behaviours during resource access, wallowing and rubbing in freeranging white rhinos and establish whether dehorning, also known as horn trimming, impacts on their frequency or function. Data were collected through camera trapping and field observations at two sites in South Africa. The results provide no evidence that dehorning disrupts digging behaviours during mineral consumption or wallowing and suggests that dehorning is unlikely to have a strong biological impact on resource access. Furthermore, the frequency of horn-rubbing behaviours did not appear to be influenced by levels of horn growth. This suggests the procedure has a limited impact on these aspects of the species’ ecology and provides support that dehorning can be employed as a management tool to reduce poaching in freeranging populations of white rhino.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)243-259
Number of pages17
JournalAnimal Biology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 18 Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Our sincere thanks go to the reserve staff, Nkombi and Earthwatch Institute volunteers who aided with camera trapping and observations. Special thanks are owed to C. Theroux, M. Withey, D. MacTavish and M. Dawson for their help with data collection and to I. Mattioli for his help with data analysis. This work was supported by a Ph.D. studentship awarded to S.G.P. and funding from the Earthwatch Institute.


  • Behaviour
  • Camera trapping
  • Dehorning
  • Geophagy
  • Poaching
  • Rhino
  • South Africa
  • Wildlife management
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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