Durban - Suspected horn poachers from Mozambique have left a trail of mutilated rhino carcasses in the iSimangaliso world heritage site in KwaZulu-Natal, where at least seven dehorned rhinos have been found in a few days.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife said on Tuesday it had found 11 poached rhino carcasses in different parts of the province, mostly within the past week.
The latest killings bring the death toll for this year to about 30 rhinos in KZN and more than 300 nationwide.
Authorities are, however, making headway. Three suspected poachers were arrested and one was killed in the Phinda Private Game Reserve in Zululand on Tuesday.
Earlier this month, three men – two Mozambicans and one South African – were arrested in Jozini, on suspicion of being poachers.
Phinda spokesperson Valeri Mouton said last night that all six men were in police custody.
“They will face charges relating to attempted rhino poaching and possession of illegal firearms and ammunition,” she said.
Sources suggest the sudden poaching upsurge in this province could be linked to tighter security measures in the Kruger National Park.
Andrew Zaloumis, the chief executive of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, said four dehorned rhinos were found along the Western Shores of Lake St Lucia on Friday.
On Monday several shots were heard and all available staff resources from surrounding stations, including forestry staff, were pulled in to cordon off the area.
“While staff were at the crime scene, three more shots were heard. Using aerial support and SAPS back-up, the spoor was tracked into forestry plantations until it was too dark.
“Investigators set up camp at the scene of the shot rhino to protect evidence. At first light the area was again searched with aerial sweeps backed up by strong ground support from SAPS and park anti-poaching units with no further rhino being found.”
Follow-up operations continued on Tuesday, showing that a total of seven rhino (including one black rhino) had been killed in the park over recent weeks, possibly by a single poaching gang. Two of these animals were found in the Ozabeni section on the Eastern Shores of the lake.
Musa Mntambo of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife said that 11 rhino carcasses had been found over the past 20 days or so.
Elsewhere in the province, two white rhino were found dead in the uMsuluzi Community Conservation Area near Colenso. The other was killed in the Weenen Nature Reserve.
Bandile Mkhize, the chief executive of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, said he was determined to keep working on solutions and tightening up on security. “We will not drop our heads. However heartsore I feel today, we will fight with everything we’ve got to track down these criminals. That I can assure you,” he said.
Tony Conway, iSimangaliso Park manager, said a spent cartridge from a .458 calibre rifle had been found.
The Zululand Anti Poaching Wing helicopter assisted in the search for poachers.
Mkhize said Ezemvelo was also preparing for a two-day Rhino Summit which beginson Wednesday at the University of Zululand.
Zaloumis said a R100 000 reward was offered for information leading to a conviction.
Call the confidential 24-hour number 082 797 7944. - The Mercury