An orphaned white rhino rests in a boma in Imfolozi Game Reserve after its mother was shot and dehorned by poachers in the Opathe Game Reserve. The calf was injured by the poachers and was rescued by wildlife vets after wandering alone for several days. Picture: Jed Bird

A nine-month-old white rhino, orphaned when its mother was shot dead in Opathe Game Reserve, is being nursed back to health by wildlife staff – the latest target of a poaching spree that led to three more rhino carcasses being found in kwaZulu-Natal at the weekend.

The calf went unfed for several days and received a serious eye injury when the poachers threw rocks at the young animal to drive it away from its mother’s carcass so they could hack off the horns.

More than 12 rhinos have been killed in the Opathe/ Emakhosini reserve near Ulundi in 2010.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife chief executive Bandile Mkhize confirmed on Monday night that two white rhinos were found dead at the weekend, close to the corridor road that passes between the Hluhluwe and Imfolozi game reserves, while the carcass of a third was recovered in the wilderness zone at Imfolozi.

Mkhize said 18 more field rangers had been employed at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi to crack down on rhino poaching. Anti-poaching unit patrols were also pursuing a group of suspected rhino poachers on the western shores of Lake St Lucia early yesterday, after a single shot was heard on Sunday night.

According to SA National Parks spokesman Wanda Mkutshulwa, on December 2 the number of rhinos killed in 2010 stood at 304, the most recent figure available.

This figure, which is almost equal to one rhino death a day, excludes the latest deaths in kwaZulu-Natal.

At least 35 rhinos have been killed in kwaZulu-Natal in 2010 while 147 suspected poachers had been arrested nationwide.

Andrew Zaloumis, chief executive of the Isimangaliso Wetland Park, a world heritage site, confirmed yesterday that anti-poaching units and the police dog unit were pursuing a group of men who fired at a rhino in the park on Sunday.

So far, no carcasses had been recovered in the park.

Meanwhile, game capture staff in the Hhuhluwe-Imfolozi park are nursing the nine-month-old rhino calf rescued from the Opathe Game Reserve after its mother was shot and dehorned by poachers last week.

Ezemvelo vet Dave Cooper said the calf would still have been suckling from its mother.

“The calf has refused to drink from a bottle but he has starting to eat quite nicely and we hope he can be weaned a bit earlier than normal.

“It is still early days, but he appears to be doing well. He needs company, though, and we will be giving him a goat friend shortly.” - The Mercury