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Durban - Poachers who hacked two rhino and a calf seem to have been after more than their horns. The calf was beheaded. Its mother had her horns crudely hacked off, ears sliced off, and skin and flesh along her back removed.
A R100 000 reward has been put up by wildlife authorities for information that would lead to the conviction of the poachers. They are concerned at the new mutilations.
The trio were found in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park at the weekend, said chief executive Andrew Zaloumis.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife spokesman, Musa Mntambo, said rangers had been on routine foot patrol last Friday in the remote Tewate Wilderness section, part of the Eastern Shores area.
They spotted a rhino calf roaming on its own. This was suspect because rhino young stay very close to their mothers. Rangers returned the next day to follow up and made the grisly discovery.
Mntambo said they found the mother rhino in the bushy grassland and the 2-year-old calf about 100m away. “It was estimated that they were killed about seven days earlier,” he said.
The carcass of the third rhino was also found.
Zaloumis said the animals had been shot in what he described as a “cold blooded murder”.
The Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa Rhino Initiative Co-ordinator, Chris Galliers, said on Wednesday this rare removal of body parts other than horns was even more worrying.
“This is different. We can’t say they (poachers) beheaded the calf to save time because that would have actually taken longer and needed more effort to chop off and carry.”
He said he was most concerned about why the poachers had severed other body parts as well.
“Syndicates are in the business of marketing rhino horn and rhino-related products. The use of various body parts is something that is not unheard of. It would not be surprising if the other body parts were being marketed as an additional item for sale, promoted by illegal syndicates.”
At an estimated R645 000 a kilogram, rhino horn costs more than the rhino itself. Ezemvelo, in September, auctioned a female white rhino for a record R550 000.
Zaloumis confirmed the R100 000 reward. He described the poaching as a “most cruel and calculated assault”.
Mntambo said he had not seen this kind of mutilation recently.
He said although most of the poaching incidents were brutal, this degree of maiming was a stark contrast to a case where rhino had their horns neatly sawed off.
This happened in the Weenen Game Reserve in Northern KZN in October. Seven rhino were believed to have been drugged, their horns meticulously cut off with minimal bleeding.
At the time, Ezemvelo Rhino Intervention Co-ordinator, Cedric Coetzee, said it appeared as if the poachers had wanted to keep the rhinos alive. It was suspected they were drugged with etorphine (or M99), a drug available legally under strict conditions only for veterinary use and often used to immobilise large mammals.
The killing of the rhino in iSimangaliso was reported to the police. Zaloumis said they had also brought in investigators and advocates who specialise in wildlife crimes as well as forensic experts and labs to ensure leads and evidence were fully pursued.
“Wildlife authorities have had to step up their game as poachers became more sophisticated in their methods.”
According to the Department of Environmental Affairs, 940 rhino have been poached in South Africa since the beginning of the year. KZN has lost 84.