Durban - Two white rhinos – dehorned and bleeding – have been found wandering alive in Weenen nature reserve near Estcourt.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife officials suspect that the animals were darted and immobilised with a veterinary drug before their horns were hacked off with a saw.
Wildlife vets were due to make a decision late on Thursday on whether to catch and move the injured animals to a boma for specialised care, or to treat them in the bush and leave them to recover on their own.
Ezemvelo spokesperson Musa Mntambo said the rhinos had been spotted on Wednesday.
The incident has aroused suspicions that a “different type of rhino poaching syndicate” has been operating in the reserve, where five other rhinos have been killed and de-horned since last Friday.
Experts were due to assess the animal’s wounds on Thursday.
Ezemvelo vet Dave Cooper said a number of rhinos had survived such wounds in the past.
If the vets decided that the wounds were very deep, the two rhinos would be translocated to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park’s wildlife bomas where their progress could be observed daily.
Cedric Coetzee, Ezemvelo’s Rhino Intervention Co-ordinator, said in a statement that the five dead white rhino had been found with their front horns (the larger ones) missing.
“The preliminary suspicion is that they all died from a fatal overdose of what is believed to be the M99 drug. Forensics will determine the drug used and if it actually killed the animals.
“While these losses have hit us hard… there appears to be no brutality in evidence.”
Coetzee said it appeared as if the poachers wanted to let the rhinos live.
A sixth white rhino, with its horns intact, was also found dead on Monday, but Ezemvelo said it believed the animal had died of natural causes.
So far this year, KwaZulu-Natal has lost 70 rhinos to horn poachers. Nationwide, the death toll has risen to 725 for the year to date – the highest on record. The police and wildlife officials have arrested 228 alleged poachers. - The Mercury