THE arrival of specialised teams to combat increased rhino poaching in the Eastern Cape came too late for a heavily pregnant rhino and a male calf, butchered for their horns near Graaff-Reinet this week.
Their slaughter brings the rhino death toll in the province to a staggering seven in barely more than the first two months of the year.
Another rhino was shot in a prior incident, but managed to escape before his horns were hacked off. The toll for all of last year was 15. A post-mortem by renowned wildlife vet Will Fowlds at Mount Camdeboo Private Game Reserve soon after the rhinos were found dead on Tuesday morning, concluded that the mother was just two weeks away from giving birth.
The baby was dead when Fowlds removed it.
Iain Buchanan – whose family owns the reserve – fought back tears yesterday as he told of the heartbreak when they discovered that the rhino had been heavily pregnant when she was killed.
“[The newborn calf’s] skin was so soft, just like a human child. He had perfect and pristine features,” he said.
The attack was the third incident in less than a year at the reserve and came despite increased patrols by ex-soldiers.
“The guys involved were devastated. It is their job to protect the rhino,” Buchanan said.
The brutal attack came just hours after Fowlds and groups working to save Eastern Cape rhinos from the crosshairs of poachers named the “miracle” baby of a rhino which had survived having her horn hacked off by poachers at the Kariega Game Reserve three years ago.
The escalation in the number of rhino poaching incidents in the province since January 1 has raised fears that this year could be much worse.
Hawks national spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said poachers were being displaced from hotspots like the Kruger National Park, Mpumalanga and Limpopo to quieter areas. Although recently formed specialised teams were working hard to nab the syndicates, the poachers were so well drilled that they left little evidence.
“[The syndicates] have stepped up their operations here. We have formed specialist teams to go to areas that have experienced [rhino poaching].” He said members of the specialised anti-rhinopoaching team were devastated by the latest incident.
“We are hurt. We want to crack this [problem],” Mulaudzi said.
Former Hawks East London organised crime colonel Rodney Visser said yesterday the latest incident had demoralised conservationists.
“We are extremely angry. We are more than just frustrated and shocked . . . it seems as if we are not making inroads.”
He confirmed that displaced crime syndicates were now focusing on softer targets like the Eastern Cape.
Unlike in other areas, Eastern Cape poaching syndicates were less reliant on help from people living near reserves.
“These people come here and do a job and leave. It is a close-knit society.”
Although a R150 000 reward was being offered in the Mt Cambedoo incident, Visser said there had been little response.