Game Reserve owner; Pieter De Jager. Photo:Ross Jansen
Game Reserve owner; Pieter De Jager. Photo:Ross Jansen

Police probe vet link to rhino drug in poaching

By Time of article published Dec 13, 2011

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Avery Carpenter

AS fingerprints of alleged poachers who darted two rhinos at the Fairy Glen Game Reserve near Worcester on Sunday are being analysed by a forensics team, owner Pieter de Jager believes it is likely a veterinarian is involved.

This is because M99, the super morphine drug believed to have been used by the poachers to dart rhinos, is a strictly controlled drug administered only by veterinarians.

The two rhinos were severely overdosed with the drug, which made their recovery even shakier.

“They were like drugged people when we found them. Stumbling and unable to fight for their recovery,” said De Jager.

According to Novartis Animal Health, the manufacturer of M99, or etorphine, it is much more powerful than morphine.

Because it is fatal to humans, veterinary packages always supply the human antidote as well as etorphine. When the rhinos were darted, the human antidote called maxolene was administered instantly as a temporary fix.

The SA Veterinary Association has said that it will do everything in its power to find and prosecute any vets involved in rhino poaching. But they also warned against prematurely blaming veterinarians.

“Certain non-veterinarians have been known to obtain these drugs

through illegal channels and it is therefore erroneous to assume that use of game-capture drugs in poaching incidents necessarily implicates veterinarians,” they said.

The past two years have seen veterinarians in the dock for suspected involvement in the rhino horn trade. Last year, Dr Karel Toet and Dr Manie du Plessis of the Nylstroom animal clinic were arrested on suspicion of belonging to a rhino poaching ring.

A few weeks ago, a world renowned game veterinarian and former head of the Kruger Park’s game capturing unit, Dr Douw Grobler, was held on charges of illegally distributing M99. He was arrested outside Port Elizabeth and appeared in court in Pretoria. The case was postponed for further investigation.

Hawks spokesman McIntosh Polela said that looking into veterinary involvement was a major part of the Fairy Glen investigation.

The rhinos whose horns were stolen at Fairy Glen are faring better, but the male is still refusing to eat or drink.

They are getting better,” said veterinarian Dr Roland Bellstedt.

De Jager said government agencies should regulate M99.

The veterinary organisation said in a statement yesterday that the limits of treatment were too regulated: “The role of the veterinarian in the fight for conservation and indeed survival of the rhino is presently hampered by nonsensical legislation which requires veterinarians to obtain additional special permits from provincial nature conservation authorities before they may treat rhino, even in emergency situations.”

l Sapa reports a suspected rhino poacher was arrested in the Kruger National Park.

SANParks and SA National Defence Force members came across three armed suspects and a shoot-out ensued on Sunday, an official said. A suspect was wounded and arrested.

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