The Western Cape has lost its first rhino in a poaching incident on a southern Cape private nature reserve.
An adult male white rhino, at the 3000ha Botlierskop Private Game Reserve near Little Brak River between George and Mossel Bay, was drugged at some point during Wednesday night or early Thursday yesterday morning and its horns cut off, leaving the sedated animal to bleed to death.
Devastated reserve owner Arnold Neethling said on Thursday: “It’s absolutely gruesome to see what people are willing to do. We’re in desperate times now.”
He described the fully grown rhino as “a beautiful animal” and said it was clear that the poachers had been professionals.
“This looked like people who knew what they were doing.”
The rhino killing – believed to be the 20th in South Africa since the beginning of this 2011 – came just hours ahead of a new anti-poaching initiative announced by SANParks.
SANParks chief executive David Mabunda said in Pretoria on Thursday that a new rhino DNA sample kit had been prepared in collaboration with the department of genetics at Onderstepoort, the National Prosecuting Authority and the police’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations.
It would be used by officers at rhino poaching crime scenes, as well as to document individual rhinos in South Africa. It was aimed at assisting investigators to link a crime scene with a particular rhino and all the movements of that rhino since its documentation, he explained.
in 2010 the LeadSA initiative committed itself to tackling the problem of rhino poaching, hosting a summit in Gauteng to discuss ways to keep the animals protected.
Conservationists have been expecting rhino poachers to target the Western Cape, which until this week had escaped the onslaught.
There are no rhinos in public reserves or national parks in the province, but there are some on private reserves.
Dr Kas Hamman, biodiversity director of CapeNature, said: “It looks as though the (poaching) march into the Cape, which we’ve been expecting, has started.”
But Neethling, son of Botlierskop founder and wildlife veterinary surgeon Dr Dirk Neethling, said they had been caught “off-guard”.
“Because we were left alone until now. This is a wake-up call, and we’re very vulnerable now in the Western Cape.”
Neethling explained that he had last checked on the rhino at about 9pm on Wednesday and had made the gruesome discovery about 12 hours later.
He said it appeared the poachers had entered the reserve on foot or using vehicles but, because it had been raining heavily, there were no tracks.
Appealing to people to report any suspicious activity in the area, he said the authorities must go after “the big guys” running the syndicates because there would always be enough “foot soldiers”.
“There are so many people in southern Africa living under the breadline for whom money is money, no matter how they get it, and there will always be others to fill their places.”
In November police arrested two Vietnamese nationals at a roadblock in Beaufort West after finding 15 rhino horns weighing about 38kg sealed in wrapped plastic and concealed in luggage.
They were to have appeared in court in the Karoo town on Thursday for a bail application, but the head of CapeNature’s biodiversity crime, Paul Gildenhuys, who is helping with the prosecution, said they had been told that the application had been abandoned. The men will now appear in court on February 24.