THE HAWKS say they suspect a rhino poaching syndicate is responsible for de-horning two white rhinos at a private game reserve in Worcester.
Hawks spokesman Colonel McIntosh Polela said they believed the latest attack was the work of a syndicate and the poachers were probably on the move as they rarely stay in one area for long.
He said poachers had hacked off the horns of two rhinos at the Fairy Glen Big 5 private reserve yesterday morning.
Game reserve co-owner Pieter de Jager said this morning that both rhinos were still alive although the male was more critical than the female because he had suffered deeper cuts.
He said the female, which is pregnant, appeared to have a better chance of surviving.
“She is critical but doing better than the male,” said De Jager.
Polela said it was believed the suspects had gained access to the reserve by cutting through a fence.
De Jager said the rhino attack was the first to be recorded at the reserve since it opened nearly 40 years ago.
Both rhino had been found, collapsed and gushing blood, at about 7.30am.
“It looked so vicious when we found them. It’s terrible to see. They are both still in a very critical condition. The male has been standing here for about four hours without making a move,” he said.
The male rhino is nine years old and the female is six.
Yesterday, standing in a trench through which water flows during rain, rangers tried to cool the visibly weak male rhino, nicknamed Higgins, to prevent him from becoming dehydrated.
Blood still dripped from his wound which was covered in tar used to seal the injury.
Attempts were made to dig a roadway for the rhino to move through but De Jager said the animal was still in too much pain.
The female had been found close to a drinking hole and both had been darted with a drug called M99, he said.
The male was still in the ditch and neither was eating yet but he hoped they would at least drink water in the next few days.
“They overdosed them to calm them and take them down. It seems they used air guns to dart them and then machetes to hack off the horns because chainsaws would make too much noise and are too heavy to carry with the horns.
“These people do their homework. They’re professional, with military background, and conduct these operations with precision,” he said.
He said routine night patrols were conducted randomly to check on the animals.
De Jager said they believed the suspects had entered the reserve on foot.
An exit had been found along the electric fence, where it is suspected the perpetrators fled by vehicle along a farm road which runs through a neighbouring vineyard.
The female, found with two darts still stuck in her left side, lay quietly in the shade beneath some trees but was receptive when De Jager spoke to her.
“They target white rhino because their horns are so big and get exported for about R500 000 a kilogram,” said De Jager.
According to SA National Parks statistics, 405 rhinos have been victims of poaching this year, compared with 333 last year.