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THE RELENTLESS slaughter of rhinos has reached catastrophic proportions and the government needs to tighten its anti-poaching laws and impose severe penalties.

This is the call by conservation activists Mark Boucher and Dr Ian Player after eight rhinos were found killed and dehorned at Finfoot Nature Reserve inside Klipkopspruit Farm near Rustenburg, North West. Seven rhinos – including a five-month-old calf – were initially found maimed and killed on Saturday, and another rhino was discovered dead yesterday.

It was, however, not dehorned, according to farm owner Miles Lappeman. He said the discovery was made after a calf was found “wandering next to its dead mother” at about 6am.

“She was the most magnificent rhino… They have totally annihilated the most viable population that could have 50 to 60 rhinos in 20 years,” he said.

Retired cricketer Boucher said the recent sentencing of Thai national Chumlong Lemtongthai to 40 years in jail should be used as a benchmark for stricter punishment to deter would-be poachers.

Lemtongthai pleaded guilty to paying prostitutes to pose as hunters so he could harvest rhino horns.

“Culprits need to spend a lot of time behind bars. But first we need to step [up] our prosecution,” said Boucher, who recently launched SAB-Boucher Conservation to raise funds to save rhinos.

He said investigations into rhino poaching needed to be extended to game farmers.

“I have spoken to vets and they said it’s difficult [for poachers] to kill seven rhinos and get away with it. There are people involved in conservation who may be getting away with murder.”

Player, who manages the Ian Player Rhino Awareness Centre, said rhino poaching had become “an African tragedy”.

“In a war you need information and intelligence. The public need to play a vital role as whistle-blowers.”

Meanwhile, North West Premier Thandi Modise said yesterday that the army could be deployed to combat rhino poaching.