A total of 82 rhino have been poached in the country since January 1. File photo: Jennifer Bruce

KwaZulu-Natal - A senior conservation manager with more than 20 years experience has been suspended by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife following investigations into the “Black September” rhino massacre at Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in Zululand.

With the investigation still ongoing, Ezemvelo’s executive director of operations Bheki Khoza confirmed the “precautionary suspension” on Friday of the senior staffer, one of the two most senior officials at the park.

“While no official charge has been laid as yet, evidence points to negligence [on his part] in carrying out his duties. Preliminary investigations reveal his absence during the terrible weekend period when rangers found seven carcasses poached at Hluhluwe.

“We are constantly focusing on our levels of security, management skills and diligence within the park” he said.

On September 21, rangers carrying out a reconnaissance flight over the southern corridor of the park found seven carcasses that would turn out to be the worst single poaching massacre in the park’s history.

Two more carcasses were found later at other locations.

It is believed some of the carcasses had been lying in the bush for as long as 45 days, while others had been poached between three days and two weeks before being found.

Three carcasses were found close to the reserve’s corridor road, apparently shot with the same weapon.

Last Wednesday, at Mkhuze Game Reserve in northern Zululand, a 10-man anti-poaching task force, led by the Hawks, arrested Bafana Professor Gumede who was allegedly armed with a .375 hunting rifle.

Acting on information and supported by the publicly-funded helicopter that is patrolling the province’s reserves, the task team tracked four suspected poachers.

Gumede’s accomplices managed to escape.

He appeared in uBombo Magistrate’s Court on Thursday and was remanded in custody pending his bail application.

The week before, a task team arrested four men at Ndumo Game Reserve in Maputaland and seized two hunting rifles.

Zululand reserves have been hit by a tsunami of rhino killings in the past three months that has taken the number of rhino killed in KZN to 59 for the year, surpassing last year’s 34.

Meanwhile, the Hawks shot dead an alleged rhino poacher and injured another in a shoot-out in the Kruger National Park on Sunday.

Captain Paul Ramoloka said they had received information about the alleged poachers who were spotted near the Sabi Sand private game reserve in Skukuza at about 2pm.

He said the task team where shot at when they confronted the men. The police returned fire. “One of the poachers was killed, another is in hospital while the other two were arrested,” Ramoloka said.

He said the police confiscated a hunting rifle, axe, saw and sedan used by the alleged poachers.

Ramoloka said the three men would be charged with attempted murder and being in possession of dangerous weapons. - The Mercury