Namibia: Questions Over Baby Black Rhino's Death

Windhoek — Chief conservation scientist in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Pierre du Preez, says the young black rhino calf that was found dead in the Huab Conservancy did not have a GPS tracking device.

He said the calf was not fitted with the device because it was still too young. Its horn, on which the device would have been fitted, was also too small.

According to Du Preez, most endangered rhinos are fitted with the device to monitor the movement of the animals and protect them from prospective poaching activities.

“We mostly target the security sensitive areas and try to fit as many animals as possible with the device,” he said yesterday.

Waterberg and the Kunene areas are regarded as the most sensitive security areas and about 80 percent of the rhinos in that area are fitted with the device.

The GPS tracking device is fitted into the rhino’s horn by drilling a small hole in the inert or dead part of the horn.

In addition to GPS tracking, the device is equipped with an alarm system to notify game wardens of unusual rhino movement or location.

Some sophisticated devices have a number of alarms that can be programmed, and among them is one that monitors excessive movement, for example, when the rhino starts running, and another one that goes off when the rhino sleeps for longer than six hours, which is abnormal.

The devices could even help track rhino horns that are poached to help combat the illegal trade in rhino horn.

According to Du Preez, the tracking device is not that expensive. However, the process of capturing, drugging and using helicopters is expensive.

“On average, we talking about N$8000 to N$10000 per animal. At least N$2000 for the drugs and N$4000 for the helicopter,” he noted.

According to Du Preez, the devices do not disfigure the animals, as they can hardly be noticed.

Rangers discovered the carcass of the rhino calf in Kunene’s Huab Conservancy during a routine patrol end of last month.

According to a daily newspaper report, the carcass was approximately four weeks old.

The calf, which was attached to a wire snare, reportedly died of starvation and thirst.

Close to 400 rhinos are at least killed per year in neighbouring South Africa by poachers.

Namibia has not experienced a lot of rhino poaching, in at least the past two decades, although isolated cases were reported, at least once a year.

According to the daily, the Permanent Secretary of the Environment and Tourism Ministry, Kalumbi Shangula, said it is too early to confirm whether the latest incident was due to poaching, specifically targeting rhinos, as the snare could have been aimed at other animals.

The ministry earlier this year, launched 55555, a toll-free number to fight rhino poaching.

Rhino horns are considered valuable because they are considered a prized ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine, while in some parts of Asia, the local population believes that it can cure cancer.

In 2010, the Kenya Wildlife Service announced that it would be fitting each of its 610 critically endangered black rhinos with tracking devices.

New Era Newspaper – Read Namibian News