Two attacks in three weeks on Eastern Cape reserve leave total of five animals dead
In a blow for anti-poaching efforts in the Eastern Cape, five rhinos have been killed in two separate attacks on the same private game reserve in the past three weeks.
In the latest attack at the Wildschutsberg Game Reserve in the Stormberg mountain range near Komani (formerly Queenstown) at the weekend, three rhinos were shot.
A cow survived but died later during attempts to save it.
The spate of poaching attacks has left reserve owner Greg Harvey outraged as its entire rhino population has been wiped out.
The latest incident saw poachers escape with minimal rhino horn as all the rhinos had been dehorned as a counterpoaching measure earlier this year, leaving only stumps of horn.
It is suspected a syndicate targeted the reserve and were also responsible for poaching two rhinos on October 1.
The attack bears a striking similarity to another attack on the same reserve in 2014 when two white rhinos, both breeding bulls, were shot dead with high-powered hunting rifles 10 days apart.
So far this year, 11 rhinos have been poached in the Eastern Cape, while 19 were killed last year.
The police stock theft and endangered species unit has taken over the probe with the assistance of investigators from Environmental Affairs.
An angry Harvey said his entire rhino population had been wiped out in less than a month.
“It is just madness. I had five rhinos that were of breeding age and now they are gone in the blink of an eye,” he said
The first attack happened on October 1 when two bulls, about 10 years of age, were shot and killed in broad daylight.
“It was a Sunday and the two rhinos were seen at about 11am. By 4pm, I got a panicked phone call from a person on the farm saying that it looks like there had been a poaching,” Harvey said.
“I launched the helicopter straight away and spotted both dead rhinos about 300m apart in the bush.
“Unfortunately, attempts to track and locate the poachers failed.”
Harvey said in the latest incident, three rhinos – two females, aged about eight and 15, and a four-year-old bull – had been shot on Sunday night.
“We found their carcasses on Monday morning after a staff member spotted one of the rhinos in the distance.”
He said the alarm was raised and the helicopter was used to scout the area.
“It was then that we saw one of the rhinos was still alive while the other two were lying close by, but dead, only a few metres apart. The one that was alive was sitting upright so we landed the helicopter and called the vet.
“We spent most of Monday morning trying to save the rhino but unfortunately she succumbed to her injury.”
Harvey said the bullet had penetrated the rhino’s upper body – near the shoulder – resulting in internal damage.
“The rhino was darted and sedated while a team of us assisted the vet.
“Because of the size of the animal, she was rolled over every 15 minutes or so to ensure her lungs did not collapse.
“Unfortunately, during the operation she died.”
Harvey said two of the rhinos had been dehorned, but not the wounded one.
“I suspect they wanted the wounded rhino’s horn but ran out of time or were disturbed. All these rhinos were dehorned already, so they only got away with pieces of a stump.”
Police and Harvey suspect a staff member leaked information to a syndicate, which targeted his rhinos twice.
“These rhinos are roaming all day and night, no one knows where they are. They are not near the fences or near any roads, so the only way you would know where to look is with inside information,” Harvey said.
“These poachers have wiped me out. I have no more rhinos left – they are all dead.”
This week reserve staff were due to be questioned and undergo a polygraph.
“We will have to see what comes out of this, but the only logical explanation is that an employee has passed on information,” Harvey said.
Provincial police spokeswoman Colonel Sibongile Soci said police had been to the scene to gather evidence.
Wildlife vet Dr William Fowlds said: “Every rhino lost to poaching inches us closer to possible extinction and makes criminal syndicates more difficult to stop.
“The cost to protect is high but small in comparison to the benefits these magnificent national assets hold for future generations.”