Poachers kill 13th rhino in KZN park

2008-11-06 00:00

Another rhino has been poached in Ezemvelo Wildlife’s Hluhluwe-Imfolozi game reserve, bringing the tally in KwaZulu-Natal to 13 so far this year.

The incident appears to have been hushed up for reasons which are not clear.

Ezemvelo Wildlife’s top brass told The Witness the matter is “sensitive” and claimed that publication would jeopardise investigations into the poaching of rhino.

The Witness held back publication of the latest incident for a week, but extensive inquiries failed to uncover any concrete reason for not informing the public.

The Witness has established that the white female rhino was found poached on October 25 in the remote Mgonyananeni area of Imfolozi. reportedly not too far from where a number of other rhino have been killed in the past two months. Field workers were attracted to the carcass by circling vultures. Both its horns had been removed.

All the slain animals have been white rhino, with the exception of a single black rhino which was dehorned after being caught in a snare at Ndumo.

The black rhino is suspected to have been an opportunistic capture on the part of poachers unconnected with the other incidents.

Ezemvelo’s media spokeswoman, Maureen Zimu, said this week she has “no information” about the latest poaching incident and referred all inquiries to acting chief executive officer Bheki Khoza.

Khoza was contacted by telephone yesterday, but responded that he was driving in traffic in Pretoria and asked The Witness to call biodiversity director Sifiso Keswa.

Keswa told The Witness he “cannot confirm or deny” the incident and urged the paper not to publish any information.

He said the matter is “sensitive” and could jeopardise the inquiry.

Asked how the publication of the fact that another rhino has been killed will jeopardise investigations, he repeated that Ezemvelo is “not hiding anything” and that the issue is sensitive, and he urged The Witness not to publicise it.

He referred the paper back to Khoza or the communications section.

Meanwhile, the state is proceeding with the prosecution of Bafana Gumede, Dumisani Gumede and Mashonisa Motlhabane in Mtububatuba in connection with a case of rhino poaching in the Charters Creek area near St Lucia earlier this year.

Charges have been withdrawn — on the instructions of the Director of Public Prosecutions in KZN — against three other suspects, Sabelo Mngomezulu, Mandla Peter Manqele and Zemizi Manqele.

The increase in rhino poaching in KwaZulu-Natal this year — which until now has averaged no more than three incidents a year — is viewed by conservationists as alarming and unprecedented and raises questions about why the crime cannot be curbed.

Members of the SA Police Services organised crime units in Pietermaritzburg, Durban, Port Shepstone and Richards Bay have been deployed as wildlife crime investigators whose task it is to handle the investigation into rhino poaching.

They also form part of a conservation task team — known as the KZN Wildlife Crime Working Group — which includes a member of the DPP’s office, and representatives of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

However, investigators are not free to focus their attention solely on wildlife crime, and it has been suggested that a team dedicated exclusively to the rhino poaching problem is required to adequately tackle the problem.

Indications are that the poaching is the work of a syndicate.

The majority of the poaching incidents this year carried the trademarks of a professional job, with the animals’ horns having been cleanly removed.

In a few cases, however, the horns were reportedly hacked off in an amateurish way, indicating the possible involvement of more than one group.

Confirming the killing of four white rhino at Makhandendlovu area in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park in September, Ezemvelo spokesman, Jeff Gaisford reported that all the horns had been cleanly removed with a sharp instrument.

This indicated that “someone with considerable experience had been at work”.

All were shot with a heavy-calibre rifle.

ingrido@witness.co.za

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