Durban - Wildlife rangers woke up on World Rhino Day on Thursday to discover the mutilated corpses of six rhinos in KwaZulu-Natal's flagship wildlife reserve.
The six white rhino were shot and dehorned in three separate incidents in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park.
The latest discovery follows an "alarming escalation" in the number of rhino poached in KZN over the past few weeks - spurring the provincial government to set up a new task team on Thursday to turn the tide against the relentless butchery.
It is understood that 20 rhino have been killed this month alone, with a total of 113 killings in this province so far this year - an increase of more than 20% compared to last year.
The sudden upsurge in rhino killings in KZN, mainly in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, has been attributed to poaching syndicates turning their attention to "softer targets" after more intense anti-poaching measures were put in place in the Kruger National Park.
In an announcement on Thursday, the provincial cabinet said it was appointing a new anti-rhino poaching task team to conduct a full assessment of the measures and capacities of rhino anti-poaching initiatives in KZN.
"The appointment of this task team follows an alarming escalation in the numbers of rhino poached annually in this province."
The task team would include representatives from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the SAPS, the premier's office, an international policing expert and a legal expert from the Ian Player Foundation
Its responsibilities would include an assessment of the criminal justice process in relation to poaching incidents at all levels and an evaluation of whether current provincial human and logistical resources were sufficient to turn the tide.
The team would provide a report and recommendations to the provincial executive council within six months.
Premier Willies Mchunu said innovative ways to curb rhino poaching were needed, as syndicates were becoming more sophisticated in their poaching methods.
"We need to ensure that we turn the tide and conserve our animals and wildlife. The extinction of these rhino will have a devastating impact in our tourism industry.
"We are known as a country and province where you find the Big Five, with the rhino one of the most treasured of that group. This team must look at all possible ways in which we can strengthen our anti-poaching campaigns and strengthen the resources of our law enforcement agencies," he said.
* Meanwhile, the trial of suspected KZN rhino horn syndicate dealer Dumisani Gwala is expected to begin on October 21 in Empangeni following a series of recent court postponements.
During a Durban High Court asset forfeiture application involving Gwala earlier this year, detectives testified that Gwala had been arrested after telling undercover policemen that he had rhino horn buyers lined up in Johannesburg and Mozambique.
He allegedly bragged about being able to make up to R13 million during a single horn-selling trip.