Desperate measures against poachers

2012-11-23 00:00

THE Nambiti private game reserve near Ladysmith made a pre-emptive strike against rhino poachers yesterday.

The big five reserve, just over 20 kilometres outside Ladysmith, dehorned two of its rhinos in an effort to save them from poaching syndicates.

The two rhinos were reportedly the last to be dehorned in the reserve, but managers would not give the total figure, for security reasons.

Chairperson of Nambiti Clarke Smith said dehorning was a bittersweet moment. “Today is bittersweet; we do not want to interfere with the nature of the rhinos by dehorning them, but we have no choice, we have to cut off their horns to keep them alive.”

The operation, led by a team from the reserve and veterinarians, began early in the morning. A helicopter was used to locate the rhinos and dart them from the air, putting them under anaesthetic. A team of employees from the reserve moved in for the dehorning operation, while vet Silke Pfitzer kept watch over the process.

The dehorned animals had their DNA sourced and filed so it could be tested and traced in case their horn is ever stolen.

After the sawing, the rhinos woke up, slightly disorientated and quickly ran off into the bush. One, surrounded by vehicles, a helicopter and people, charged at the people, sending them running for cover behind the chopper.

Smith said the dehorning was a sign that the game industry was getting desperate as rhino poaching escalates.

To date, more than 500 rhinos have been killed across the country in 2012. Nambiti has been lucky so far, having only lost one animal, a few years ago. “We are getting desperate, what else can we do? … We need to do everything that we can to protect these rhinos,” said Smith.

He said their success in protecting their rhinos was largely thanks to the local community, who are also involved in the running and management of the reserve and who keep a watchful eye.

“They inform us immediately if there is anything untoward or if there is someone walking suspiciously near the reserve …” he said.

Pfitzer said dehorning rhinos was like cutting off a fingernail, as they made sure to cut away from any nerve endings.

“Dehorning does not hurt the rhino, it’s not like amputation, the horn will grow back in a few years and the process [to dehorn] will start all over again.”

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