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Brutal end for Bella at Bay game park

Bella was discovered dead and brutally mutilated

Little Ava Lester and her father, Chris Lester, at the dehorning of Bella the rhino which was performed by a vet team at Kragga Kamma Game Park earlier in June 2018.
Little Ava Lester and her father, Chris Lester, at the dehorning of Bella the rhino which was performed by a vet team at Kragga Kamma Game Park earlier in June 2018.
Image: Fredlin Adriaan

In a poignant moment that captured the hearts of thousands of readers last week, a toddler tenderly kissed Bella, a sedated rhino, shortly after she had been dehorned for her own protection at a Port Elizabeth game park.

That picture was violently shattered yesterday when Bella was discovered dead and brutally mutilated, the remaining stump of horn having been hacked out.

The outrage happened exactly a week after the white rhino cow and two other white rhinos were dehorned at the Kragga Kamma Game Park.

Bella, believed to have been shot with a high-calibre hunting rifle, is the ninth rhino to be killed by poachers for their lucrative horns in the Eastern Cape this year.

Rhino owners traditionally dehorn the animals to deter poachers.

Scores of visitors were turned away from the park’s closed gates yesterday as police investigators went to work at the scene of the shooting – an open area far from any of the park’s boundary fences.

Experts have since warned poachers are targeting private reserves as the national and provincial parks have beefed up their anti-poaching efforts.

According to police, poachers shot the 20-year-old white rhino and only the remains of one horn were removed.

The carcass was found at 10am by residents living on the reserve. Officials at the scene confirmed that the animal was shot with a high-calibre hunting rifle and left for dead in a fairly open area in the park.

By midday yesterday, the police K9 unit’s endangered species detection dog had combed the area to establish whether the horn had possibly been hidden in the surrounding bush.

Police spokeswoman Colonel Sibongile Soci said detectives were still on the scene until late yesterday.

“A female white rhino was shot and killed and the horn removed. It is suspected the incident took place last night [Thursday] between 7pm and 10pm.”

Rhino conservationist and wildlife veterinarian Dr William Fowlds, who also did the autopsy yesterday, said he suspected the poachers were unaware that the rhinos had recently been dehorned.

“I think they got away with about 300g, if that. It was a complete waste for them and a pointless killing,” he said.

Fowlds confirmed a horn was removed from the carcass.

Private Rhino Owners Association chairman Pelham Jones said that it was seeing a  national increase in poaching on private reserves.

“We are dealing with a desperate situation. We are seeing a substantive increase compared to 2016 and last year of poaching on private reserves.

“This tells us that the crime syndicates are seeing that national reserves are difficult targets, forcing them to move to private reserves,” he said.

“To target a dehorned rhino is still financially rewarding for the poachers. They still get about 1kg of horn.”

Jones said the end-user price for 1kg of rhino horn was about $180 000 (R2.5-million).

“This is why the face of the rhino is often hacked with an axe.

“The most common method currently is to use an axe and brutally butcher the animal to get the bottom growth area of the horn,” he said.

On the same day the Kragga Kamma Game Park conducted the dehorning, a Kirkwood game farm also had one of its rhinos poached.

Late last month and at the beginning of this month, three rhinos were poached at two different private reserves on the outskirts of Port Alfred.

Acting provincial police commissioner Major-General Andre Swart said: “Investiga - tors will follow all the leads to track the suspects”.

Neither the owners nor management at Kragga Kamma Game Park would comment on the poaching incident yesterday.

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