ANOTHER brutal rhino slaying at an Eastern Cape game reserve on the weekend has left a one-year-old weaning black rhino calf orphaned.
Poachers shot and killed its mother before hacking both her horns off and covering the body with branches.
It was the fifth incident in the Eastern Cape in the last 16 months and the second poaching at Kwantu Game Reserve, about 80km from Port Elizabeth, in the past 14 months.
The carcass of the 14-year-old rhino was found at about 2am on Saturday by rangers who stumbled across the de-horned body about 1km from the reserve’s fence.
Shortly after the discovery the Green Scorpions placed all game reserves around the province on high alert in fear that poachers might strike again.
Kwantu Game Reserve CEO Shakir Jeeva said that both horns were taken from the adult cow and that the calf managed to flee into the nearby bush unscathed.
“It appears that the rhino was shot twice in the shoulder and managed to run off before collapsing,” he said.
Jeeva said yesterday afternoon that rangers were attempting to capture the calf and do a full health evaluation to establish its condition.
“If experts feel that the calf still needs to be weaned we will have to hand-raise it on a special milk mixture until it is strong enough to fend for itself,” he said.
“Our experts and police have done an autopsy on the carcass already and now we are just waiting for some of the results to come back.”
Calves normally wean for up to 18 months. “It will not be able to survive on its own and we will do everything in our power to pull it through,” Jeeva said.
He said all the evidence illustrated that the mother was the target of the attack and not the calf.
“From what we can gather it looks like the poachers were on foot tracking the rhino for some time when they decided to take the shot and kill the cow,” he said.
The rhino horn from the cow is estimated to be worth about R700000 on the black market and is usually smuggled into China and Viëtnam.
“These are very organised and professional syndicates who are operating across the country and they are really hampering conservation efforts to keep these rhino alive,” Jeeva said.
“This female cow has given birth to three rhino at Kwantu including the calf that is currently weaning and her death is really a huge loss to conservation.”
A source close to the investigation said that in the latest incident, the rhino had been shot twice by a “high calibre hunting rifle”.
“The rhino was shot twice by a high calibre hunting rifle but we are just not sure which type,” the source said.
Poachers are also believed to have covered their foot tracks by using branches to clean the sand of their prints. Despite the fact that the poachers swept the area with branches, police managed to find at least one footprint, said Jeeva.
Eastern Cape Green Scorpions deputy director Jaap Pienaar said game reserves around the Eastern Cape had been on high alert since the beginning of the year.
“We are the only province that had not been effected since the beginning of the year. We have been working very closely with rhino owners to prevent poaching from happening in the Eastern Cape.”
Pienaar said that a team of experts had been at Kwantu since the discovery of the carcass on Saturday.
“There is a whole team on the scene and they are still busy with a lengthy investigation as to what happened. We are working closely together with the police organised crime unit to bring these culprits to justice.”
Pienaar said that the department was in the process of appointing a new Green Scorpion team to specifically cater for rhino poaching and other organised crimes against the environment.
The weekend’s incident comes only one week after poachers killed three white rhinos on a game reserve at Modimolle in Limpopo.
The last rhino poaching in the Eastern Cape was in September last year at the 9000 hectare large Kariega Game Reserve.
At the time Kariega reserve owner Mark Rushmere said that unmarked helicopters had been reported flying over the reserve.
According to a study by the international conservation group Traffic, rhino poaching is now at its highest level in 15 years, with 95 percent of poaching incidents happening in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
At Mantis Collection Group, which includes the Shamwari reserve, its security and anti-poaching manager Rodney Visser said that all neighbouring reserves were on high alert following the incident.
“We are shocked that this has happened again and are working around the clock together with neighbouring farmers to ensure that the rhino are kept safe,” he said. – By GARETH WILSON— The Herald, Avusa Group News